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School district working to increase diversity

From the historic blackface shows and the huge “Robert E. Lee” painted on the Showboat, finally removed in 2017, to recent incidents involving a blatantly racist assault at a car dealership and public displays of the Confederate flag, Lowell does not exactly have a reputation for diversity.

According to the 2010 US Census, Lowell is “94.1 percent white, 1.3 percent African American, 0.6 percent Native American, 0.6 percent Asian, 1.1 percent from other races and 2.3 percent from two or more races.”

Lowell Area Schools superintendent Gregory Pratt said the district is doing its best to promote diversity of thought and experience.

“We've spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of years on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Pratt said. “Part of it was to start capturing student voices, so about a year ago we started a Diversity Club at the high school and we're going to see that expand. Most certainly some of our conversation has been about how to do something similar at the middle school. We see that expanding eventually further, even into the elementary level. It really needs to start to be who we are, part of our culture as an educational institution. Equity and inclusion must be at the forefront.”

Pratt said the district is concentrating on three areas for “continued conversation” - policy, professional development and curriculum.

“One is policy, looking at our policies to make sure that we provide equity and inclusion for all groups,” Pratt said. “We need to continue to look at all our policies across the district and if there's holes that need to be filled we need to continue to do that and make sure that we provide quality policies that ensure every student has equal opportunities here in Lowell, especially our student of color.”

“The second piece is professional development for staff,” Pratt said. “We've had some early conversations and just last week had some professional development for staff with the National Equity Project. We will continue and expand on that work in the upcoming school year. That should be expanded with our staff, but include students in the conversation so that their voices are heard. Some our our staff and administrative team have done professional development over the past few years, so now it's about taking it to the next level and expanding the conversation. Not only with staff and students, but with their families.”

Juneteenth, a June 19 holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery in the US, was recently “discovered” by the culture at large, a breakdown many blamed on the educational system in America. The most common criticism is that teachers must “teach to the test” so that scores are high, rather than imparting useful, interesting, historic or civic information to students.

“The third area is curriculum,” Pratt said. “We need to continue our work in the area of curriculum, making sure that those groups that may have been marginalized are heard and making sure that they have good examples of themselves within the curriculum. For example, are we providing enough authors of color? Students who are wanting to write and read high quality literature, are they being represented by somebody who looks like them?”

Displays of the Confederate flag are not allowed on school property, including stickers or cloth flags on vehicles in the parking lot.

“In the last two years, we've only had one incident where we had to utilize that policy, so I don't think it's happening on a regular basis,” Pratt said. “But I think having a high-quality policy there and being able to utilize it gives us a benefit. It's in the handbook and it's pretty solid. Some of our work going into the fall will be making sure that students and parents are aware of that. We've got a lot of work in front of us, but I think that work has been started. Our students need to be heard and our families need to be heard. We've started the journey, but it's a long path that needs to be taken.”

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