SOUTHINGTON — A group of teachers, school administrators, students and town leaders will begin meeting next week to address race and diversity issues that were brought to the Board of Education’s attention earlier this year.
School Superintendent Tim Connellan chose members of the group and will have the State Education Resource Center facilitate. The center provides training and conferences on diversity, equity and combating racism.
“There’s going to be people from different backgrounds,” said Brian Goralski, school board chairman. “This isn’t simply a reaction to something that has happened in our community. It’s been part of a plan they’ve had all along.”
A video in which a Southington High School student threatened black classmates surfaced online late last year. A short time later, town residents and area groups urged the school board to address a lack of minority teachers and administrators, as well as higher discipline rates for minority students.
Members of Southington Women for Progress had five policy suggestions for the school district. Erica Roggeveen Byrne, the group’s founder, will be a member of the diversity group. She’s hopeful that, with the state center’s guidance, the group can “improve the conditions for students of color.”
“I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic,” Byrne said. “I trust SERC to make sure that this process has some depth to it.”
Tom Lombardi, a town councilor, was also asked to be in the group. He’s attended diversity meetings organized by the Southington Women for Progress and said he gladly accepted Connellan’s invitation.
Even if the group doesn’t come up with policy recommendations, “at least people have a forum to converse and hear other people’s perspectives and ideas,” he added.
Cheryl Hilton, a Southington Women for Progress member, was doubtful whether people selected by the school administration would push for major changes.
“I’m very skeptical that long-lasting, permanent change will come from this. I’m hopeful, but I’m very skeptical,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re up to doing that. From what I’ve seen in the past, they are not.”
Goralski said the group can succeed if members and the community focus on the positive and learn from, but not dwell on, the past.
“Those types of negative attitudes that are consistently being displayed by Ms. Hilton are not productive for true community change,” he said.
“We’re looking for people who are looking for positive change, who are engaged, who are diverse.”
The group is scheduled to meet Tuesday at Depaolo Middle School.
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