School Diversity Report Receives Mixed Reaction
Many parents disheartened by findings
After a district-wide effort to assess diversity within the West Orange school system, the equity report released by a group of consultants met sharp criticism at Monday's board of education meeting.
The report was prepared by LCW Consulting who began making inroads in February, conducting surveys and interviews with parents, teachers, school administrators and students. Many parents, though, said they were frustrated the report's findings yielded no new information. School officials contended the consultants provided a solid base to address disparities within the district but were open to suggestions from the public.
"We needed the report done and now we need to look at the corrective action plan to implement the recommendations," said West Orange Board of Education president Laura Lab. "One thing in a corrective action plan that I would like to do immediately is to have that student exit interview for the graduating class which was a fantastic idea (by a parent)."
Lining up for public comment, parents complained the report did not capture a large enough sample — 34 students out of total population of more than 6,000 were interviewed. They also said they were disheartened by the report's lack of quantitative data that failed to accurately address existing disparities.
"The figure we need to investigate is what policy do we have in place that is hindering our recruitment of more diverse staff. What is happening in our district that we can't do it?" said Tauheedah Baker-Jones, a local resident. "We're missing those hard numbers and need to look at what are the practices in place that are causing those numbers."
Anne Meyer and Lorretta Webb, two long-time educators prepared and presented the report's key findings and recommendations. Among those, they listed:
- Lack of public awareness of school board policies and the need to clarify both administrative and board specific practices
- The need for professional development of teachers to better understand cultural differences
- Review the curriculum to better represent other cultures within the school district and incorporate a greater variety of multicultural events.
- Diversify the teaching staff by doubling efforts to hire qualified and diverse candidates
Meyer and Webb said they were "impressed" with school board's encouragement to seek candid comments from the district. Webb said though there's work to be done, the West Orange schools were "way ahead of many other districts."
West Orange Superintendent of Schools, Anthony Cavanna said many of the consulting firm's recommendations were already in the works. "We recognize that we have some work to do but we also recognize we have a sound foundation."
During the five and half hour meeting that ran well past 1 a.m., some parents related their frustrations with the report to the decision to release an African-American supervisor in the district, Deborah Bartley-Carter.
"I find it troubling you get rid of her position where here it is you spend the money on diversity," said Windale Simpson. "Professional development is not going to help our students, no one can teach you to think like an African-American."
Other findings from the report revealed that while students were satisfied by their teachers understanding of cultural difference, parents said teachers were not always sensitive. The consultants recommended widening the channels of communication between parents and school representatives to address issues and discuss best practices.
Baker-Jones found the results to be "perception based" and said the equity report didn't reveal anything groundbreaking. "If we really want to look at the reality of something, we have to look at the numbers, because my perception of something is about my experiences, because that's not going to tell you what someone else is going through."
The report used written surveys from more than 300 teachers and administrators and more than 200 from parents. The consultants interviewed 28 parents, 22 middle and elementary school teachers, 13 administrators and 34 students. See attached document for a copy of the report.
[Editor's note: This is one of a series of stories from Monday night's board of education meeting. To read about the charter school resolution, click here. To read about residents challenging the termination of the language arts supervisor, click here. To read about the recognition of Redwood Elementary teachers click here].