Saif Rehman is an energetic, civic-minded Baltimore-area resident. He chose me to create his blogs early in his School Board run – he got thousands of hits and made it to the primary election round!
LET’S KEEP DIVERSITY, INCLUSION IN THE SPOTLIGHT IN HOWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
It was two years ago in February that the HCPSS administration formed a community-based Committee for Diversity and Inclusion to recommend ways to integrate the many cultural voices of our community into the curriculum, workforce, and professional learning standards of our schools and educators.
The idea resonated with a community still reeling from a racially charged video that prompted demonstrations and student walkouts. More than 150 people applied to serve on the Committee. Eventually, 35 community stakeholders representing a balance of diverse groups (as defined by HCPSS Policy 1010), county-wide geography, all school levels and bargaining groups and a diverse set of broad interests were selected to serve.
In August, 2016, the Committee submitted dozens of recommendations to the Board to expand inclusion and diversity system-wide. These bold recommendations are historic and deserve to resonate for years in the areas of student voice, curriculum, workplace diversity, and professional learning.
One critical recommendation was to require each school to appoint a cultural proficiency liaison to equip staff with the knowledge and skills needed to create more inclusive classroom environments. Turmoil at the Board and upper levels of the administration had a role in delaying implementation of this and other Committee recommendations, and it was not until a year later, in August of 2017, that interim Superintendent Michael Martirano named Kevin Gilbert Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In November, newly-appointed school cultural proficiency liaisons met for a five –day seminar packed with workshops. Mr. Gilbert’s office says more and more seminars are being sought out by schools around the county all the time.
This is excellent news. Mr. Martirano, Mr. Gilbert, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coordinator John Krownapple are to be commended for assuring this vital initiative survived the days of chaos and is being implemented district-wide with enthusiasm and vigor.
Let’s not stop there.
We lack a mechanism for the Board to stay informed on the progress of the Committee’s initiative and the real-world impact it is having on our students. How are we holding individual schools accountable? How are we measuring progress? By what means are we informing the community about our efforts and our forward movement in this critical area?
I believe it is especially important to look at the curriculum aspect of the Committee’s recommendations. Are we incorporating the “Global Classroom” into HCPSS curriculum? Are students systematically engaged in experiences that expose them to cultural diversity? How are we holding schools accountable to offer more World Language options to students?
Regular opportunities to hear from Mr. Gilbert and the school liaisons can help us hold districts accountable and keep the public informed.
We also need more information on progress in expanding our diverse workplace. What strategies are we using to achieving a balanced, diverse and culturally equitable representation among our administrators, teachers, and office staff? Are these strategies working? What has changed since the Committee made its recommendations in August, 2016?
Appointing cultural proficiency liaisons and training all staff members are important first steps. But it is just a first step. The Committee recommendations were much more sweeping. Our Board has a responsibility to keep the spotlight on the pace of progress and hold the administration responsible.
As a candidate for the BOE, I will advocate that the Board require staff to regularly update the Board and the community on all aspects of the Committee’s recommendations. We need to deliver on our promises to the community, and public progress reports are a minimum requirement in meeting this obligation.
Open, transparent communication is one of our strongest tools to avoid a repeat of the unrest we saw two years ago, and to continue the ongoing work of uniting our community in shared vision of educational opportunity and achievement for our children.