Inclusiveness, diversity and equity update
June 30, 2020
Editor's note: You may listen to the presentation made at the school board meeting, in addition to board member comments, here: Presentation, June 30. You may also see the report, here: Preliminary report, June 30
Former Superintendent Michelle Saylor was a champion of campaigning for global education at Bellefonte Area School District. That also included initiatives to better understand and help educate employees and students on topics such as inclusion, diversity, equity and equality. In fact, during the 2019-20 school year, she created an initiative for inclusion and equity through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, with booklets and pamphlets provided to begin training administrators on these topics.
She was even recognized nationally for her efforts by AASA, the School Superintendents Association and Education Week.
Since Saylor retired at the end of the school year, Assistant Superintendent Tammie Burnaford, who will act as interim superintendent effective July 1, has vowed to help keep up with those plans through an ongoing district effort. She unveiled preliminary information at a school board meeting on June 30, 2020.
“We’re absolutely going to work our best to try to make things better,” Burnaford said. “It is a daunting task, but it’s absolutely necessary that we do it. … There are a lot of people working their behinds off trying to put a lot of things together, and one thing I want to be sure of is that we do an extremely thorough job with all of it, and investigate what we need to change and how we need to change in the area of diversity and inclusion and equity.”
That, she added, comes with a variety of endeavors including improving curriculum; creating a committee to help oversee initiatives; and working with other community professionals such as Nikole Hollins-Sims, from the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, and Seria Chatters, the director of diversity and inclusivity at State College Area School District.
Throughout the past few years, Bellefonte Area School District, under direction of Saylor, has worked to address these topics with various activities and events. In 2018, Bellefonte Reads offered the book “The Hate U Give,” to spark community discussion about such topics. The book follows a black teen balancing life at two opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum, while also working through emotions of witnessing the fatal shooting of her friend at the hands of a police officer. Last school year, the district also welcomed guest speaker Shauna King for a mandatory diversity training with all district employees, and began a review and revision of social studies curriculum districtwide. Through this, employees involved have been looking at curriculum though a lens of diversity, equity and history.
In the 2019-20 school year, Bellefonte Area Middle School Vice Principal Mike Baughman and Human Resources Director Michelle Simpson also teamed up to attend workshops, trainings and other professional learning, in addition to connecting with Chatters and other professionals to better hone their understanding of human differences and promoting acceptance of those. Together, starting in the 2020-21 school year, they will lead a committee, which will likely include faculty, staff, students and community members that will provide guidance and ideas for this continued district effort.
Saying the plan is in the early stages, Burnaford added that it’s also coming with help from PDE that provided a toolkit to get started – beginning with addressing the topics with the district’s 22-person administrative team and identifying goals at all levels of district departments, programs and schools.
As the district further establishes its plan, it also goes beyond ethnicity, gender, race and sexual orientation. Burnaford said it will take a “broad” look into other aspects, which also include language barriers, disabilities, social class and more.
“Right now, we’re gathering information and identifying what’s the plan of attack for such a big undertaking, because we want to do it right,” she said.