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Norristown Area School District launches diversity training initiative

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Written By: Brendan Wills – The Times Herald

In the wake of a former employee of Norristown Area High School being fired for posting racially charged comments on social media, the Norristown Area School District has launched a districtwide diversity training initiative.

“The goal is to create an environment that is safe and respectful for all. This is not a one-time deal. It is something we take very seriously and we will be proceeding in a consistent manner,” said district Superintendent Janet Samuels in an email statement.

At the May school board meeting, which was held a month after the firing, John Milligan, president of the Norristown chapter of the NAACP, called upon the board to begin such an initiative.

Milligan said he did not want to sound like he was chastising the rest of the Norristown faculty and staff, but the employee’s behavior could suggest that other faculty members hold same beliefs.

“The district has more school employees who share the racist attitude that was displayed recently, but I believe we have many more educators who are committed to being good teachers. However, they simply don’t have a full understanding of the different cultures and values of the students that they are trying to educate,” Milligan said.

He also noted the need “to acknowledge that there is an inherent cultural divide, and differing viewpoints and values between many of the school district staff and the students who they are entrusted to prepare for adulthood.”

Before Milligan spoke at the meeting, the district had already begun such an initiative, according to information recently provided by the district.

As early as May 16, “38 members of the Norristown Area School District convened in the administration building conference room to launch a districtwide plan for diversity training,” the statement from the district said.

That meeting resulted in creating a diversity training program aimed at “creating an environment across Norristown Area School District that is safe and respectful for all,” the statement said. “The Diversity Committee is comprised of representatives from all district schools and departments and will include parents and members of the community in all subsequent meetings.”

On May 22, the district hired Barbara Moore-Williams, an education diversity consultant, to speak with Norristown’s building-level administrators during a professional development session regarding the promotion of cultural diversity.

Milligan had said at the school board meeting that achieving a “balance” in the district was vital given the demographic disparity between the district’s students and staff.

“For instance, approximately 27 percent of the school district’s students are Hispanic; however, only 2.5 percent of the district’s employees are Hispanic,” he said. “Approximately 42 percent of the district’s students are African-American; however, only 15 percent of the district’s employees are African-American. The more concerning statistic is that only 11 percent of the teaching staff is minority, compared to a student base that is 75 percent minority.”

To assist in achieving that balance and providing an opportunity for the community to get involved in the conversation, the district has allowed parents and community members to attend all subsequent meetings of the diversity committee, the next of which is scheduled for June 16.

Source: The Times Herald – http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20150611/norristown-area-school-district-launches-diversity-training-initiative

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