The Harnett County Schools’ Diversion, Equity and Inclusion Committee met for the first time last month and participated in a workshop titled “Equity and Excellence in Our Schools.” …
The Harnett County Schools’ Diversion, Equity and Inclusion Committee met for the first time last month and participated in a workshop titled “Equity and Excellence in Our Schools.”
Presented by Dr. Stephen Peters and Dr. Mark Wilson on May 25, the workshop allowed the nearly two dozen committee members to share information and provide feedback about “how they can see themselves working together to help advance a climate of unity within our schools,” Assistant Superintendent Jermaine White told the HCS Board of Education Thursday morning.
White said the 23 committee members, which included HCS teachers, office administrators and maintenance staff, took part in a “culturally responsive workshop” that also looked at issues like poverty and representing not just race but students with disabilities.
“When formulating the committee we tried to reach across the entire district,” White said. “What we really tried to do from a committee perspective, for our first meeting anyway, is look at elementary, middle and high school representation from a school administration perspective. We try to look at how our diversity represents us there. We looked at other areas in the district to be able to find people who represented different interests ... to make sure we had a well-rounded first meeting.”
Several committee members, White said, also attended a follow-up virtual seminar provided by the U.S. Department of Education on June 22 titled “Building Equitable Learning Environments in our Schools” that focused on “cultural responsiveness and inclusivity.”
“This seminar is the first installment in a series that will be offered by the U.S. Department of Education throughout the summer,” said White. “All in all it was a great experience and we look forward to be able to meet more throughout the remainder of the summer and the start of next school year. I think what you’ll see is a great opportunity to take those things that affect our families across our district and be able to frame it (in) such a way to where I think the representation for this particular issue will be addressed on multiple levels.”
When asked about the racial make-up of the committee, White said eight or nine were white with the rest either Latino or Black. Board of Education member Vivian Bennett supported the initiative and said she would like to see even more white people on the committee.
“The reason I’m bringing this up is years ago we had equity and diversity courses that were mingled into the school year,” Bennett said. “I think this is needed. I feel like if we could get some more whites on that committee to get involved in some way ... I just think they need to be involved in diversity and equity because I think it would help them a lot to deal with this classroom situation and things of that sort.”
HCS as a whole, Bennett said, lacks minorities, who often find work in larger school systems.
“Those are the people we really need to deal with the students that we have,” said Bennett. “When [White] said eight or nine whites and the remainder are minorities [on the committee], remember we have a small percentage of minorities working in our school system, and it’s not our fault. We are a smaller system and most of them look over us, but we need some more minorities in this county. We don’t have many minorities (on staff) at all in the school system like we used to have. We just can’t find them.
“We need probably more whites on the committee than minorities because they need to get this information that they haven’t been exposed to. I wish we had more things of that sort.”
The Harnett County Board of Commissioners recently tabled a scheduled mandatory seminar on equity and diversity, citing concerns regarding a piece of legislation making its way through the General Assembly that would prohibit “critical race theory” training or instruction in public schools.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038.