School board eyes opportunities to expand cultural diversity

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The Rome school district is exploring opportunities in conjunction with the local NAACP organization to address more cultural diversity within the district’s curriculum including English Language Arts (ELA) and history.

The efforts were outlined by district Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Christopher Brewer during the Board of Education meeting Thursday night.

Also during the meeting, continued concerns about lack of diversity in hirings of school district staff members were expressed by Rome Branch NAACP Vice President Felicia James-Williams.

Rome Branch NAACP leaders have spoken at several prior board meetings about topics involving the need to seek equity for students including minorities and others, and the need to hire more minority teachers.

Among discussions Thursday night:

• Brewer said he has attended two Rome NAACP meetings, one involving its executive committee and the other its religious affairs committee. He added he will be “meeting with them on a regular basis to...talk about curriculum and instruction with the group.”

Brewer said in meeting with NAACP representatives, “we talked...a great deal about our ELA and history curriculums,” which are “really the two...where there’s an opportunity to infuse more diversity into those curriculums.”

Discussions have included the district seeking to provide more diverse novels and helping to promote reading involving books with characters whom students can relate to, Brewer commented. In addition, Brewer referred to discussions about “infusing more Black history into the curriculum, and not just at Black History month in February.” New educational standards have “really helped to support that,” he said, referring to Next Generation Learning Standards. Although textbooks “have not caught up” yet to those standards, Brewer said, there are plenty of other resources including primary source documentation plus secondary sources to help get students to “think about our history.”

Brewer also said “we talked a great deal” about ongoing staff professional learning efforts regarding unconscious bias and cultural responsiveness, adding it cannot be a “one-and-done professional development” and must be “talked about year after year.”

• Later in the meeting, Williams addressed the board and said that regarding Rome NAACP concerns about school district staff diversity, “excuses have been offered as to ‘why we can’t hire minority teachers’ by some of the board members, which we totally take issue with.”

Williams referred to a recent hiring that she said “appeared to be done behind closed doors.” She said “we are questioning your interview process,” asking “how can we expect a fair shake for people of color when this district appears to practice nepotism.” She added “we would like a copy of your hiring procedures and policies,” and asked if there is an employee handbook with rules and procedures.

District Superintendent Peter C. Blake asked Williams to email him regarding “what it is specifically that you would like,” and “we can get that back to you.” He said he tried to take notes, but wanted to “make sure I didn’t miss anything.”

Williams also expressed thanks to Brewer “for meeting with us,” adding “we look forward to working with him.”

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