WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education heard a presentation from the Diversity, Equity and Access Committee at its Aug. 31 meeting. Acting Chairwoman Kimya Jackson, the assistant principal at Redwood Elementary School, said that during the summer the committee created a student survey focused on race. Students will take the survey when they return to school Sept. 14.
“After creating the survey, we decided that we needed to really focus on professional development, because we not only created a survey for students, but we also created one for staff to ask what type of training they would like to receive when it comes to implicit bias and race, and how they would like to receive it,” Jackson said at the meeting.
Professional development has already been scheduled for Sept. 26, to help teachers align their lessons with the Amistad curriculum. Teachers will also be participating in professional development about better teaching American history. Administrative professional development will be done as well regarding cultural sensitivity and implicit bias.
“The other thing that has been taking place are summer book clubs,” Jackson said. “Some of the books that have been read either schoolwide or outside of school are ‘So You Want To Talk About Race,’ ‘Stamped,’ ‘Stamped from the Beginning,’ ‘White Fragility,’ and we’re thinking about adding ‘Blindspot’ to our book list. Our hope is to jigsaw these book clubs together so we can present our findings on the topic of race to our staff members.”
West Orange High School social studies teacher Michael Figueiredo, who is on the committee with Jackson, said there are now separate columns for all social studies mandates that are effective in the curriculum this year: Amistad curriculum, Holocaust and genocide curriculum, and LGBTQIA.
“Each column now contains additional lessons, readings and resources, which will make it easier for our staff across the district to locate the lessons and then implement them in the classroom,” Figueiredo said at the meeting. “This upcoming school year we are updating our social studies K-5 curriculum.”
The English language arts curriculum is also being updated to meet higher diversity standards, as elementary ELA supervisor Beatrice Hanratty said at the meeting. A committee was set up over the summer within the ELA department to review the texts being used in the current curriculum.
“We began auditing the texts for diversity and inclusivity in the areas of author race and gender, and relevancy,” Hanratty said. “We evaluated texts to see if they served as windows, a resource that offers a view into someone’s experience. With the aspect of mirrors, does it reflect one’s culture, does it help build one’s self-identity?”
The next step is to shape short- and long-term goals for the ELA curriculum, as well as make the committee ongoing and expand to allow more staff to join.
Going forward, Roosevelt Middle School Principal Lionel Hush said the committee’s outreach to attract more diverse staff members will continue. A diversity job fair will be held in the spring, most likely virtually.
“We’ll also look to expand our recruiting efforts by connecting with the tristate area universities and colleges,” Hush said at the meeting, “as well as broadening our reach to make connections at the career service departments of the HBCUs in the surrounding area.”
He mentioned the historically black Lincoln University, Howard University and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania as examples.
“We are in the process of creating a uniform interviewing process that focuses on the knowledge, skills and abilities of the candidate, with a defined rubric to match,” Hush said. “It will be aligned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”
In addition to the staff committee, Jackson said students will be invited to be part of subcommittees, schools will have individual diversity teams and more book club groups will be implemented. By the end of the year, the district is hoping to have antibias lesson planning and training.
“Moving forward, we would hope to have accountability measures for staff and students,” Jackson said. “We’re thinking that we may need a district audit, where we have someone who stands outside of our district to tell us what they see so we can work on making our district even better.”