WATERVILLE — Waterville Public Schools officials plan to continue discussions about bias after the mother of a graduating senior at Waterville Senior High School said her daughter was mistreated by some teachers because she is Black.

Karlene Burrell-McRae told the Waterville Board of Education on Monday that she wanted to explain what it means to have children of color in the school district. Her daughter, she said, was not treated with the dignity and respect she should have been afforded.

“She has struggled to be safe,” Burrell-McRae said.

While some of her daughter’s teachers were remarkable, others were not and said racist things to her that affected her in significant ways, according to Burrell-McRae, who is dean of the college at Colby College. While her daughter is able to come home to a family that will lift her up, others may not have that, she said.

She asked whether one can expect a child to learn and thrive academically in such an environment.

“This place has caused harm to her and she can’t wait to run from Waterville,” she said.


As a parent and educator, she said, she felt it important to speak publicly to the board.

“I thought it was worthy, coming and saying, ‘Do better,'” she said.

It was not clear how her daughter was mistreated, through words or actions or both, and Burrell-McRae did not give specific examples.

Waterville high school Principal Brian Laramee said he could not speak to any specific complaints due to confidentiality laws.

Laramee did say, “that anytime concerns are brought regarding the safety and well-being of a student, staff, or our school community, our school district investigates and attempts to address the concerns in an effort to make the school safer and more welcoming for all.”

“While our school district has done significant work this year in an attempt to make our district more inclusive and welcoming, it was clear from the concerns raised at last night’s meeting that we still have a lot more work to do.”


Board member Greg Bazakas said Monday that what Burrell-McRae shared was not an “isolated observation” and he did not want board members to just nod their heads and walk away without doing something.

“I think we need to think about what is going on in our schools, and what we can do,” he said.

Board Chair Joan Phillips-Sandy thanked Burrell-McRae for addressing the board.

“Thank you very, very much for coming forward and, clearly, whatever we’re doing isn’t enough — that’s obvious at this point,” she said.

Jen Allen, director of curriculum and professional development for Waterville schools, said the district is taking steps to promote social equity, including by bringing in speakers to engage with students and staff. A group has been meeting monthly as part of the effort. The schools, she said, have a full schedule for diversity and equity training.

“We’re just starting our journey,” she said.


Phillips-Sandy said the board also recently approved having a civil rights team at each school.

“Clearly, there is more to be done,” she said, adding that most of the people doing the work are white.

“Maybe it would be very, very helpful if we had more people of color involved,” she said.

Jennifer Yoder, a Colby professor and Bazakas’ wife, emphasized the need for bias training and getting people from area colleges, including Colby, Kennebec Valley Community College and Thomas College, to help schools to think about bias more generally. She said that she has lived in Waterville 25 years and there are still people suspicious about Colby and Colby people.

“That, to me, seems a form of bias,” she said.

Phillips-Sandy said there is at least one person from Colby involved with Allen’s group and the board’s superintendent search committee hired a consultant to help include diversity in its search process.


Waterville Senior High School science teacher Jon Ramgren suggested holding a diversity day in schools.

“Bring in speakers to teach kids how to advocate,” he said.

Phillips-Sandy asked Superintendent Eric Haley to contact school administrators to discuss the issue and come back to the board with recommendations for what can be done to improve.

Both Bazakas and board member Maryanne Bernie said the board needs to be involved.

“I think it’s important that we play a role in this,” Bernier said.

Comments are no longer available on this story