The high school years can be one of the most crucial moments in a student’s education. For Robert Munro, Concord Academy’s Dean of Academic Program and Equity and an alumnus of the College of Arts & Letters’ African American and African Studies (AAAS) doctoral program, supporting students at this age has always been his vocation. And throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the omnipresent inequality facing students of color and the sudden retirement of Concord’s Head of School, Munro’s desire to uphold his students has never been more apparent.
As Dean of Academic Program and Equity, Munro is at the forefront of student betterment in the classroom and promoting equitable practice throughout multiple facets of Concord Academy, which is a coeducational, independent, college preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9 through 12 in Concord, Massachusetts.
Munro changes policies that do not support students of color, impoverished students, or anyone burdened with inequality.
“I’m in a position to influence Concord’s academic system and to make certain changes, uphold certain expectations, and hire the right people,” he said.
I’m in a position to influence Concord’s academic system and to make certain changes, uphold certain expectations, and hire the right people.
These efforts are focused on Concord Academy’s 400 students, with Munro’s mentality of “we’re going to help you fix that” being applied to each endeavor of student injustice.
“I have a mandate to look at and oversee the school’s sustainability work and make sure all of that fits into the student experience,” he said. “I also help oversee all of this work with about 100 faculty and staff as well.”
Munro’s desire to pursue equity work, specifically for students of color, began with his education at MSU where he entered into doctoral studies in 2008 and found a sense of belonging with faculty such as Professor John McClendon, former MSU AAAS Director Rita Edozie, and Professor Kristie Dotson.
“The idea of mentorship around the African American community is really powerful,” Munro said. “There were some great people in Arts & Letters, just really helpful.”
As a doctoral student, Munro’s research focused on boys of color and the history of education within the African American community.
“I knew I wanted to have an impact with African Americans, specifically young boys, who have had a very unfair shake within higher and secondary education because of historical systemic racism,” Munro said.
I learned that when we’re talking about educating students of color, we’re not talking about dropping expectations. Expectations stay high.
After honing his scholarly pursuits, Munro became a history teacher and Director of Global Studies at Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts. The diversity at Middlesex reflected what he saw in the Writing and Rhetoric courses he taught at MSU as a doctoral candidate.
“I learned that when we’re talking about educating students of color, we’re not talking about dropping expectations,” he said. “Expectations stay high.” This mentality for his students continued as he began his position at Concord Academy on July 1 last year.
Due to the COVID pandemic, he wasn’t able to fully integrate into Concord Academy when he began his position. His work was immediately focused on student accommodations and overhauling policies to reflect this mission, and he began to realize that “COVID is exposing all of these nasty cracks in our system.”
“We have spent millions of dollars over COVID that we didn’t budget for. We have the resources; we have to spend it because it’s an investment in our kids’ future,” he said. “If kids didn’t have good Wi-Fi, we made sure to get it for them. If they needed a new laptop, we got them one. We offer a stipend to our students who have financial aid, and we continued that stipend over the summer. We never do that, but we did it last summer because kids and families needed that money.”
All of these efforts made for a demanding first year at Munro’s new position. Then after Concord Academy’s Head of School stepped down in November, Munro and other Deans continued to diligently enact the school’s ethical policies.
We have spent millions of dollars over COVID that we didn’t budget for. We have the resources; we have to spend it because it’s an investment in our kids’ future.
“I’ve gotten more experience in these past eight or nine months than I would have in three or four years,” he said. “The whole job is you’re coming in and you want to listen and learn. I did not have that luxury. It’s been nothing short of difficult.
“We’ve been trying to live out our mission of being an equity-first school by giving kids what they need to have the opportunity to succeed. And if they need certain things that would cost the school some money, we spent it. No one has done enough during this pandemic but at least we know what needs to be done and we are going to fight tooth and nail to get there.”
Written by Alec Parr