Grief, social injustice and emotions are heightened in our world, country and community -- and rightly so.

Voices are uniting to express sympathy and outrage for the families of George Floyd and all who have lost their lives in senseless acts of violence. Recently, Xzavier Brandon, a New Albany High School graduate, organized a peaceful demonstration in New Albany for voices to be heard and to effectuate change.

Public education is the cornerstone of equality, without which the pursuit of happiness becomes nearly impossible. Education provides the opportunity to build a better life. I am grateful for such every day.

Everyone has a right to an education that is in a safe and inclusive environment. The New Albany-Plain Local School District does not and will not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind in any school. No matter your race, color, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion, you are welcome in our halls, classrooms and our campus.

We have a responsibility to provide access to an outstanding education and a safe space for everyone in our community. We must continue to work daily to ensure such exists for everyone on our school campus.

We are not perfect. We are human. We make mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, just like we ask our children to do. However, collectively, we have a responsibility as an entire community to stand together for our students and those who have suffered injustice. We must be committed to the work it will take to create a better world for our students. We must define that work together in the spirit of continuous improvement. It is everyone's responsibility to listen, learn and grow. Without such actions, we are part of the problem. Our school district is committed to being part of the solution.

We actively encourage our students to "See Something, Say Something" and "Own Their R (response)" every day on our school campus. We teach our students the R factor in hopes of empowering them with the disciplines necessary to produce positive outcomes by owning their responses. Further, we teach our students that we cannot control the events (E's) that will continue to occur, but by owning their response (R) in a positive manner, they can and will directly influence the outcome (O) produced.

The recent events that took the lives of or vandalized the innocent are tragic. Collectively, we have a responsibility to demonstrate to our youth and those who have or continue to suffer social injustice that enough is enough. Now is our opportunity to be united and own our responses to produce positive outcomes for our students, parents, staff and community.

Although addressing the core issues of social injustice extends beyond our school campus, as a district, we are responsible to create a culture of accountability that achieves the best academic and developmental outcomes for each student. We have developed values, behaviors and outcomes we are responsible to live and hold each other accountable for daily in our schools. Additionally, we must live the values and permeate our culture with positive behaviors to produce socially just outcomes for all.

I recently read: "There remains a great deal of apprehension and uncertainty in our country as we move forward in life amidst a pandemic. However, just as life seemed to be moving in a more positive direction, we were hit again by a virus of another type, one that has plagued our nation for generations -- racism. It most recently reared its ugly head through the death of George Floyd. The amount of anger, anguish and unrest many Americans are feeling has reached epidemic levels -- and rightfully so. Our young people are watching and learning. The question is, what are we teaching them?"

Our school district is committed to improving. We invite students, parents and staff to share their wisdom on how to structure opportunities that will permit us to listen, to understand and to engage in constructive dialogue to improve our schools. We must ensure the policies and administrative guidelines enacted to govern our school district are, in fact, working to protect the safety and welfare of all persons on our school campus everyday. We must embrace that we are not perfect, welcome challenging conversations on hard topics, unite and act for the betterment of everyone. We are stronger together.

Michael Sawyers is the superintendent of the New-Albany Plain Local School District.