School district needs to add diversity staffer, set policies to support all students

To the editor:

I have been an educator in New York City for 25 years, first as a teacher, then a principal and currently as a schools superintendent. I’m also a parent of a child in the Pelham Union Free School District.

The quality of Pelham’s schools is a defining trait of our town. Families move to Pelham and stay here because of our wonderful schools. As parents, we all want our kids to have the resources and skills they need to grow, succeed and thrive. We are thrilled that our kids are finally back together in the classroom, because we know the quality of learning is better when students are together with their teachers and their peers. This has been a difficult and unprecedented year for us all. We can all agree that our teachers have the skills they need to get our kids back on track. They are well trained and well positioned to respond to the needs of students and provide a strong academic focus because this is what Pelham schools have always excelled at.

Our schools, however, teach our kids more than facts and figures; they also teach them how to interact with others with recognition and respect. After a year of isolation, inconsistency and confusion, our kids are not only making up for lost time in the classroom, but also in social relationships with their peers. Our kids are making up for lost time with each other, and the past year has undeniably presented new social/emotional challenges that we must address to help our kids re-adjust to being in the school community together again. An essential part of this is ensuring a culturally responsive climate of belonging and respect across lines of difference. Diversity, equity and inclusion is fundamental to the way our children learn, interact and respond to difficult situations.

We need a dedicated resource to focus on this now. Teachers and administrators have enough on their plates. And after a year at home, so do parents. We need to give our kids all the resources they need to succeed—not just academically, but also socially. Our kids can’t afford to lose another year or two of this kind of support. The creation of a district-level diversity, equity and inclusion position is essential. Policies to support all students should be introduced and implemented in close coordination with the superintendent, the school board, parent teacher associations, school-based multi-cultural committees and cultural competency committees.

If we don’t make the right choice to do this now, it will be made for us later. New York State has already made diversity, equity and inclusion in education a priority for all school districts. If we don’t do this our way and soon, we will either fall behind neighboring towns like Scarsdale, which has already moved forward with these dedicated resources, or risk legal action against the district, like we’ve already seen in neighboring towns like Mamaroneck.

The strength of our schools is what brought us all to this town. This new resource will help to uphold the quality and reputation of our schools and our town and ensure our kids have the resources and skills they need to navigate the challenges they face today and will face tomorrow.

Josie Carbone

217 Highbrook Avenue North