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Staunton Schools continue focus on diversity, inclusion

Staunton City SchoolsStaunton City Schools is continuing its focus on diversity and inclusion at the start of a new school year.

The school division hosted a two-day training session with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities just before the kickoff of the new school year, for middle and high school teachers, staff and administrators. Representatives of the organization will be back in Staunton for training with elementary school staff in October.

VCIC provided training on equity, unconscious bias, culturally relevant instruction, microaggressions and the cycle of prejudice. The school division also brought in a retired Newport News school board member, author and motivational speaker, Carlton Ashby, to train middle school teachers on culturally responsive teaching and the importance of building strong relationships in July.

Nearly two years ago, the Staunton City School Board approved Superintendent Garett Smith’s diversity and inclusion plan, which included a partnership with VCIC, a Richmond-based non-profit organization specializing in addressing prejudices in all forms to improve academic achievement, increase workplace productivity and enhance local trust.

“This continuing education is part of the school division’s ongoing self-examination of the culture of its schools and extensive introspective work that began in the fall of 2017 to help all school staff become aware of and address potential biases and nurture a culture of inclusiveness in our schools,” Smith said.

The organization helped SCS and the Staunton community navigate through the high school name discussion, moderating two community listening sessions about the issue, conducting focus groups with students and community members who held viewpoints on both sides of the debate and developing recommendations for how the school division should address the issue going forward.

However, VCIC’s work was not limited to the high school name discussion. The organization was simultaneously leading diversity and inclusion training with all SCS staff, and Smith is continuing to engage the group in ongoing training.

“We’re meeting many of our academic goals, which is important, but we have more strides to make,” Smith said. “Academic achievement, employee expertise, youth development, and school culture are all interrelated. Success is only sustainable when all four are continuously addressed.”

Last year, VCIC provided several opportunities for members of the Staunton community to offer input about diversity and inclusion in Staunton’s public schools, including:  focus groups for middle and high school students, educators, and community stakeholders;  diversity training for every school division employee; and  equity team summits during which a select group of teachers and administrators were trained to maintain an open dialogue on inclusion and diversity in each school as well as ongoing education on the subject.

“Creating an inclusive culture is the responsibility of every employee – from the bus driver to the cafeteria personnel to the teacher to the central office,” Smith said. “All of us have a meaningful role to play in making everyone feel welcome and valued in our schools.”