School District Addresses Diversity Issues Head-On

This is a column by Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore and Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams

The Melrose Public Schools staff has undergone intensive training and educational sessions around diversity and racial issues since 2014. In April of that year, when a middle school teacher said something racially offensive to a child, we decided to face the issue head on and use this  as an opportunity to train all our staff in cultural proficiency. The Office of Civil Rights resolution agreement was not concluded until almost two years later, but we did not wait for the report to begin the training. However, since we received the report, the training has been more specific to legal policies and procedures. As painful as this has been, especially for students, it has been an opportunity for our staff to grow and learn and to use their training to help our students.

Most recently, in November and January, all staff for grades 6 through 12 went through two days of professional development. The first day focused on identifying biases and how they creep into the classroom, focusing on race, culture, gender, and how the media and the outside world also affect the classroom.

The second day focused on how to have those conversations with students. After the first day, people were more aware of how they use language, how our curriculum is more or less diverse, and how to have conversations with students. These are difficult conversations to have. They are uncomfortable. How do we as adults facilitate them? All staff, including teachers and administrators, participated in this workshop. In addition, departments and groups of teachers have continued the conversations begun in their own meetings.

The district has also been providing ongoing training for administrators on policies and procedures under the law, their legal responsibilities, the rights of students, and the procedures that should be in place. Curriculum directors and middle/high school administrations have reviewed curriculum materials with their departments to determine how diverse perspectives are represented and make plans based upon the findings.

All paraprofessionals have gone through training as well. That training focuses on being aware as educators of our own biases, and our responsibilities when we see or hear something—how to intervene. It also covers how to have conversations on race and culture in the classroom, when it comes up spontaneously and when it comes up within the curriculum—how do we talk about it in curriculum and content areas and how do we engage the students?

Staff have also gone through training around the English Language Learners program in order to bring the students’ language and culture into the classroom in a positive way, to enrich the classroom and the experiences of all students.

In grades K through 5, the district is focusing on curriculum materials in order to ensure that they reflect diverse perspectives and are inclusive of other cultures. Our plan is to institute professional development for staff in grades K through 5, similar to that we have been doing in the middle and high schools, this fall.

All this ties into the work the district has been doing all along on social and emotional issues. If we want students to feel safe in classrooms, we have to acknowledge the cultural and linguistic backgrounds they bring to school and incorporate that into the classroom.

The professional development completed so far is just the beginning. It’s a journey to a destination. We have started it, and we’ll continue.

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