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BOE hears cultural unity and diversity goals

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | May 14, 2021


CHARLES TOWN — Tanya Dallas-Lewis, cultural diversity/staff development coordinator for Jefferson County Schools, appeared before the Jefferson County Board of Education Monday evening, to present a variety of cultural unity and equity goals and how they are being reached in the school system.

Through a series of slide presentations, Dallas-Lewis shared goals specific to attracting, recruiting and retaining “outstanding educators that reflect the social and ethnic cultures of our student population.”

To achieve those goals, Dallas-Lewis expressed the need and the efforts to partner with historically black colleges and universities. One of her goals, she said, was to increase educators of color by nine percent by 2030. An objective to reach this goal, according to the slide presentation, includes a plan to develop and financially support an out-of-area recruitment plan.

Dallas-Lewis also announced the recent formation of the Hispanic/Latino Association, to offer greater inclusivity to Latino students.

Dallas-Lewis referenced achievement gaps several times during her presentation, speakng of ways to target historically underrepresented groups through culturally responsive teaching. She advocated the use of mental models, a multi-pronged approach dealing with attitudes, historical data and partnerships with students to be individual leaders of their learning.

Several members of a curricular advisory committee spoke as part of the presentation, praising the work going on in the system.

“The work our committee is doing is amazing,” said Dorothy Johnson, principal at North Jefferson Elementary. “The need for curriculum has been recognized for years, we just didn’t know where to start.”

Archie Green, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Charles Town Middle School, commented on students seeking “safe spaces” where they could ask questions of “someone who looks like them.”

“We appreciate support of these programs,” Green said. “I expect the outcome to be higher grades and test scores.”

Following the presentation by Dallas-Lewis, board member Donna Joy specifically questioned some job postings on the BOE website for staff for a Black Math Genius Program.

In explaining the program, Dallas-Lewis said it is “one of the ways to attach meaningful action to the data.” She went on to say that prior to Brown vs. the Board of Education case in 1954, 50 percent of teachers were teachers of color. Now that number is less than nine percent, she said.

She also said the lowest performing students in math, according to data, are black students. She stressed the importance that teachers of color can have on students of color. Dallas-Lewis said the Black Math Genius program is an instructional approach that shows scores for blacks increasing.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to improve educational outcomes of this group,” Dallas-Lewis said.

Joy said following the meeting that she still has additional questions, however, as no other board members had any questions, she didn’t want to take up more meeting time.

“I appreciate all the work done so far towards closing the education gap for Black children,” Joy said. “I also was to know what is being done for Hispanic children and English language learners.

“I want to know who collects data and how it is analyzed,” Joy added, saying she wants to see how Jefferson County intends to bridge the gap for Hispanic children, as this is one of the biggest educational issues, according to the state-provided data.

“I want to know what we are doing for our minorities and first-generation college students who get great athletic scholarships, only to return home after one year,” Joy said. “We are clearly failing them.”