A sign hangs prominently on the exposed brick wall of the reception area in the Chancellor Center. It recognizes Newtown as a 2012 winner in America’s Promise Alliance’s “100 Best Communities for Young People” initiative. A matching trophy rests on a nearby ledge.
However, signs do not tell the whole story. Trophies collect dust. And perceptions do not always mirror reality.
An overflow crowd gathered in the Chancellor Center for a meeting of the Council Rock Diversity and Inclusion Citizens’ Council. They came to address a burgeoning crisis in the school district.
A spate of racially-charged incidents at Council Rock North High School after the 2016 presidential election placed the district in the unwelcome glare of the national media spotlight. There were reports of Latino students experiencing harassment. In particular, a young woman found a note in her backpack demanding that she return to Mexico.
Additionally, vandals defaced school bathrooms with drawings of swastikas and inappropriate messages.
In response, concerned parents and residents formed the council to address a perceived diversity deficit in the community’s schools. Their goal is to develop long-term strategies to promote tolerance and cultural understanding in the classrooms of the Council Rock School District.
“I felt it was necessary that we move forward,” said Robyn Johnson, who serves as the committee’s liaison to the school board, during the meeting. “There are so many students that go unnoticed, and they have a voice. I want their voice to be heard.”
Will Homes, chairman of the council, recounted Superintendent Robert Fraser’s four-part plan for the district, and how the group will work to implement it.
“We have a lot of things we want to do, but we want to do it in the right way,” he explained. “The school board has a very strong plan in place.”
Fraser intends to engage students and implement diversity programming and likewise engage the community. He is also committed to working in collaboration with the Peace Center on training for teachers and staff and hopes to overhaul the district’s recruitment and hiring practices.
Accordingly, the Council Rock Diversity and Inclusion Citizens’ Council established subcommittees for each of the superintendent’s goals. One group is participating in a district-wide audit in the K-12 language arts, social studies and health education curriculum to ensure proper representation of diverse groups, for instance.
Other members are creating school-specific diversity committees to develop programs that promote empathy and celebrate heterogeneity, while another group explores potential deficiencies in the district’s hiring practices that may be preventing it from attracting a wider pool of candidates.
Their work has already made an impact: The district will participate in job fairs at Temple University and Cheyney University, among other institutions, in order to advertise open teaching positions.
With all this now in place, the council’s executive board invited members of the public to sign up for the group’s various committees.
While the next meeting of the committee has not been officially set, Holmes noted that the district has granted the group permission to use the Chancellor Center for its future activities.
Once the logistics are negotiated, the council’s schedule will be finalized.
School Board member Bill Foster, who attended the gathering with colleague Denise Brooks, applauded the enthusiasm of the attendees and exhorted them to continue their work.
“We can be a bit of a bedroom community,” he admitted. But, he added, “Keep going. Don’t give up. Push, push, push.” ••