Cultural proficiency, which replaces diversity task force, explored by Pelham school board


Pelham Memorial High School

Cultural proficiency is the concept that replaced the diversity task force in the Pelham School District’s new strategic plan, and the school board held a work session last Tuesday to explore the topic.

According to Superintendent Cheryl Champ, including cultural proficiency as a main component of the new strategic plan is a result of “the natural growth of our country and natural change in demographics.” Pelham’s diversity is one the biggest factors that attracts new residents and so training in the area of cultural proficiency is one of the key ways to make the district’s environment as welcoming and inclusive as possible, she said.

“Exposure to diversity makes us all better,” Champ said.

Presentations on the topic were heard from Jeannine Clark and Lynn Sabia, the Pelham Memorial High School and Pelham Middle School principals, respectively. Representatives from CampbellJones Associates, the agency which has been providing training in cultural competency to the district, also spoke.

Dr. Champ reviewed the big picture objective of the new strategic plan: “The Pelham school community will develop empowered, adaptable, well-balanced individuals who are equipped to meaningfully contribute to our local, national and global society.” Cultural proficiency is the third goal in the plan, in addition to authentic learning and the whole child, which have previously been reviewed in board work sessions.

In the weeks before the meeting, the board invited the community to engage in an online Thought Exchange about cultural proficiency, attracting 226 participants and generating 191 thoughts. The highest rated thoughts included judging others by character rather than race, creating more of an emphasis on economic diversity, employing a more diverse teaching staff and fostering a more diversity-inclusive curriculum for students K-12.

Brenda and Franklin Campbell Jones of CampbellJones, who have been administering the training to district faculty and community members since the end of summer, provided the board with a walk-through of their programming and message.

The goal is to “help people to challenge their beliefs” by asking themselves “what is in front of me that I cannot see?” said Brenda Campbell Jones.

The district is seeking additional funding to extend training to all Pelham staff.

Sabia said the middle school has been working to develop a common goal and principle for the initiative, as well as agreeing on definitions for terms such as culture, competence, voice and agency, as well as “taking a serious look at how we are grouping students.”

Clark and Dr. Maria Thompson, director of humanities, shared the progress of the cultural competence committee, which has 36 members, including four middle school and four high school students. The committee has worked to address issues in curriculum, understanding of definitions, shared protocols and next steps.

As of next month, the board is moving its meetings to Wednesdays, and the next will be Dec. 4 and 18.