Olentangy Valley News

Diversity committee ushers change into school district

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Almost three years since its inception, officials say Olentangy's diversity committee is making the district a more inclusive and welcoming place.

Committee chairman Todd Corley addressed the school board at its Jan. 10 meeting to update board members on the committee's achievements and upcoming initiatives.

Corley said the volunteer-driven group has sponsored a variety of educational activities for students and parents and helped the district craft inclusive policies.

Those efforts have paid off, he said. Since 2010, the district has doubled the number of minority educators teaching in Olentangy schools and has instituted annual districtwide training sessions on diversity for teachers and principals.

"We're training teachers to create inclusive classroom experiences so they can have those difficult conversations that often have to happen when you think of different people from different backgrounds interacting," Corley said.

The diversity committee was created by Superintendent Wade Lucas in 2010. It now consists of four subcommittees, including more than 70 administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

Members meet quarterly.

The committee has secured several grants to fund educational opportunities, including funds to send middle school students to COSI last year to see the exhibit "Race: Are We So Different?"

Later in 2012, the committee hosted Melanie Killen, researcher and author in the field, for a free community forum titled "Children and Diversity." It also facilitated a districtwide viewing of a film called Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes to further explore the subject.

The committee also helped to institute the new part-time administrative position of district diversity coordinator, currently filled by Oak Creek Elementary School teacher Heather Camacho.

A staff member at each school in the district now serves as a diversity liaison, reporting to Camacho.

Corley said more grant funds have been secured to fund programming in 2013.

At the end of January, the committee planned to launch a new website to promote its cause.

By the end of the year, Corley said, all high school and middle school buildings in the district will have student diversity clubs.

Board member Julie Wagner Feasel said the diversity committee has been effective in shaping the culture of the district.

"This is a great example of a volunteer committee that continues to do great things in our district," Feasel said.

Not all board members support the committee's goals.

In December, the diversity committee took heat from board member Adam White, who said its efforts actually promote racist attitudes.

White said highlighting differences in race, religion, gender or other demographic variables encourages students to be preoccupied with their differences.

He argued that a district policy calling for a "fair" depiction of minorities in classroom lessons is an exercise in "rewriting history."

Other board members and residents denounced White's views at a subsequent meeting.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Corley added: "Diversity efforts are not intended to rewrite history. We're teaching our students to listen to, understand and incorporate multiple perspectives and always think critically."

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