Approaching equity and diversity through workforce development, as well as curriculum development through a partnership with Rome Chapter NAACP, was discussed during Tuesday’s Rome City Schools Board of Education meeting held online via Zoom.
Superintendent Peter C. Blake ended his preliminary comments at the beginning of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting by thanking Rome NAACP President Jacqueline Nelson and the organization for working collaboratively with the school district to further advance the ideas of equity and diversity, and all things related to education.
A memorandum of understanding will not just include workforce development, but also student curriculum, he said.
An equity task force was created in January of last year, comprised of school and community members. The approximately 22-member group’s goal was to address cultural diversity and social awareness issues that affect district students.
Facilitating the work of the task force was Dr. Shanelle Benson Reid, of ACCESS Global Enterprises, who had been consulting the district for about a year when the equity group was formed.
Formation of a task force was recommended to the school board in August 2019 by Reid, who had recounted issues at Rome Free Academy and Strough Middle School after visiting and making observations at both schools. She expressed concern regarding various comments and attitudes she found at those locations about students and families who come from diverse circumstances and situations. She said some of those comments came from staff members.
“We’re going to continue the work that we’ve done with the Equity Committee that we have some board members on, and I’m happy to announce to the community and the board that between Jackie (Nelson) and myself, we’ve finalized that memorandum, and you have a good understanding of where the two organizations want to go together,” said Blake. “I thank Jackie and the NAACP for their patience and their work on developing that, and we look forward to our continued successes and work together.”
During public comments, Nelson offered statements about the importance of the memorandum between the NAACP and the district.
“We’ve been at this for a long time, and the NAACP has been trying to work towards equity and fairness for all our students,” Nelson said. “We’ve heard the promises before, and we’ve been involved with committees through the years that ended with nothing happening. Now we find ourselves in a time where something has to be done and changes have to be made.”
The Rome Chapter president said in order for the district and community to make things better, everyone must recognize that equity is a necessity, and that all must realize the problems and shortcomings of the past, while coming up with plans to effectively fix them.
“I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making — the vision we have — as we work with the Rome City School District,” she said. “But make no mistake, we have a long way to go, and hiring minority teachers is a priority. We would hope that the teachers’ union would also help with this. Every child should be able to see someone who looks like them — teaching them, working with them, nurturing them.”
Nelson said, “And while we are very pleased with the memorandum, and we thank Superintendent Blake for his hard work and working with us to get that done, the memorandum is only as good as the word of the parties involved. We will hold up our end, and we ask this board to hold up theirs by allowing the administrators, the teachers and staff who have been working towards positive changes, to continue to do the good work they’re doing. We can’t afford to step back at this time.”
Nelson said the NAACP is concerned about “this board getting along with one another,” and how that may cause setbacks in the progress they’ve begun.
“We all have to work together, and we have to get along,” the president said. “I’ve said this several times, there are wonderful teachers within the school district and wonderful staff, they just need the tools and support to make positive changes...This is an exciting time, and we look forward to positive changes in Rome.”
Nelson ended her comments by encouraging administrators and teachers to “set a plan in motion” for students possibly affected by the murder of George Floyd last May. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis, Minn. police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which became a national reckoning on police violence and systemic racism even before his trial began, was found guilty by a jury on all counts Tuesday.
“I was wondering if you had a plan in motion and how they would respond and give support to students that are affected,” she said. “There are probably children within our school district that have been affected by the murder of George Floyd.”