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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 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 . To read about residents challenging the termination of the language arts supervisor, click . To read about the recognition of Redwood Elementary teachers click ].

Michelle Cadeau May 27, 2011 at 01:08 AM
I was invited to one of the focus groups and have to say that the study mirrored what was said in that group. The community leaders (many of them parents or former parents) highlighted the things pointed out in the study. It was refreshing to be a part of such a positive and forward looking group. All school districts have stuff to work on and always need to move forward but I think we are at a great place and can build from there. It is great for me, as a parent, to know that the district listens and is willing to collaborate with the parents. It is also great to know that there are so many parents that care so much. Together we can take our great schools to be even better. I am especially happy that our multicultural and multilingual children get recognized and there will be more done for them. Thru them, having them as 'teachers' in the class rooms , the kids can learn about most of the world right in the class room. What an education for all the children.
chris May 27, 2011 at 09:12 AM
I would like to know what the selection process of students was. That was not addressed other than the fact that they were "hand-selected." Was it TRULY random? You mention that you were chosen to be in the focus group...we need to hear from new people and new perspectives. That's the problem with this town, it's the same ole', same 'ole. That is NOT diversity.
Michelle Cadeau May 27, 2011 at 11:14 AM
I am not sure who the students were selected but I am sure they were diverse (this study was the doing of an outside company) I don't think you know me so you might not know that I have only been involved in town for 2 years. That is pretty new to me. The group I was in had the community leaders and was very diverse (old & new faces and various thoughts ) and there was a parent group with many 'new voices' And everybody got heard. And within this town and the people involved, there is a lot of divesrsity (in thoughs and ideas as well as in culture and faiths.)
Cynthia Cumming May 27, 2011 at 12:55 PM
I have to agree. The focus groups were sufficiently broad based for parents as well as students. I participated as part of the HRC, PRC, WOCPTA, and as a parent. Students were utilized depending on availability for the groups and a diverse representation was utilized. While the study groups were not wider ranging, that would have required much more resources and would have come at a much higher cost to the taxpayer. It was determined that West Orange is ahead of the diversity curve compared to most other school districts, though more can be done. That is not a finding to be angry about, it is one to be celebrated as we all move forward together.
Tom May 28, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Such nonsence should not be considered if parents want a school system that has more Africans as teachers they should search out that school and send thier kids there. This is "Political Correctness run Amuck"
Laura May 30, 2011 at 08:55 PM
The fact that the wider community and student body was not surveyed is problematic. How can one say that this study was objective when all of the focus group partipants were chosen by the board and the administration. Anyone with intellect can see the bias in that process.
Michelle Cadeau May 30, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Laura, I am not sure where you got that information from but I can tell you that many of the people in the group that I was in were not selected by the board or the administration (I for one) and the ones that were were very wide ranged and from all walks of life and situations. It was a very diverse focus groups and everyone was heard and everyone's view respected.
Travis June 12, 2011 at 02:16 PM
By no means am I a Jerry Tarnoff “groupie” but Dr. Anthony Cavanna is an utter embarrassment to the West Orange Public Schools. His handling of the English supervisor, though she is indeed incompetent, only mirrors his efforts in bringing in Ronald Bligh to the district. Bligh's been documented for sexist racist, and inappropriate behavior. This man is the epitome of corruption (allegations with paying referees under the table for “services not rendered”) and bigotry (too many examples which have been swept under the proverbial rug to mention). And the turmoil continues as Cavanna plans to bring more “I'll scratch your back” cronies to the WOPS. Why is the WOBOE ignoring the real problem. When people ask me why I am moving from WO it is because of the above-mentioned plagues that make me want to send my kids to another district.....and if you are wondering how I know this all....teachers, students, administrators, and kids hear and see a lot.
Cynthia Cumming June 12, 2011 at 02:22 PM
I see you have been busy this morning. I am reporting post under this thread as well.

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