Burlington education administrators say they're taking the first step to tackle racism on school grounds. The school board approved new guidelines Tuesday night following the uproar over the Superintendent's handling of racial incidents last fall.
Boardmembers say the moves do more than just improve how incidents are handled when they occur. They say the measures will help the school community adopt a more inclusive and multicultural mindset.
The handling of incidents involving diversity - whether racial, socio-economic, or cultural - nearly cost Burlington Schools Superintendent Jeannie Collins her job this summer. The issue split the board then, but Tuesday, it voted unanimously on motions meant to knock down the division between students of different backgrounds.
"If we don't actively promote inclusion and equity, we're passively accepting an environment where some students are excluded and others are not supported in the way they need to succeed," said school board member Paul Hochanadel.
The board signed-off on a new policy and strategies for success. They focus on closing gaps in academic achievement, inclusion and staff diversity. It also unveiled a report based on the '10-'11 school year that - when paired with a report due in February - will serve as a baseline for future improvement.
The results indicate wide gaps: - Non-whites are less likely to perform well on standardized tests - As are those who qualify for the free lunch program - Black students are three times more likely to be suspended from school; poorer students are four times more likely.
Burlington High English teacher Reuben Jackson says he's thrilled to see the board begin to address the fact that 28 percent of students are non-white, but only three percent of teachers. He warned though that quotas without qualifications could hurt the cause. "If people think, I, an educator of color, I'm just here because of the way I look,we've got a few more walls to paint," he said.
Superintendent Jeannie Collins says complaints about insensitivity are up this year since implementing some steps. But, she says that's expected and a positive sign. "What is happening is we're starting to see people come to us and say I felt really uncomfortable about that and start to talk about what just happened," she explained, "whereas before people were quiet."
The school board's February report will deal with '11 - '12 academic school year statistics. So, the new policy's effect won't begin to show until the following year's report which will encapsulate the experience of current students.