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Penn-Harris-Madison school board approves new diversity officer position

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The Penn Harris Madison School Corporation just announced it will hire a Diversity Officer. The school board approved the position in a special meeting today.

School leaders say this step came out of an urgent need.

A major catalyst for that need to address racial issues in the district came in the form of an open letter from Penn alumni. They laid out their concerns and demands for the administration. With the announcement of this new position, all parties involved are encouraged by this action.

The vote by the P.H.M. School Board to create a new diversity officer was unanimous.

Superintendent Jerry Thacker says the administration is sorry about any racial injustice and discrimination students have endured. He says they’re trying to make amends – and this new position can help foster a safe climate for all students.

“It’s a positive step so that we can make sure that we are intentionally and actively working to provide experiences which make the students of color feel safe and welcome in our schools,” said Thacker.

The announcement is welcomed by Vera Ndovie – a recent Penn High School graduate.

“That was one of the goals that we had in our timeline of short, mid- and long-term goals. So it feels really good to hear that they’re actively listening and they are also stepping in and taking action," said Ndovie.

Thacker says the district is looking for someone who has experience as an educator, can implement necessary reforms and address representation and learning gaps in the classroom.

“We need to be focusing on anti-racist themes, anti-racist activities and providing our students with experiences so that they are proud of their heritage.”

He says more diversity will be included in assignments and reading materials.

Ndovie says that change in curriculum will help break down stereotypes.

“A lot of what we’re taught isn’t necessarily representative of the minorities within the district.”

President of the P.H.M. School Board Christopher Riley says school leaders are committed to addressing racial issues.

“Today is an important first step in implementing the reforms necessary to eradicate racism and racial injustice within our school system,” said Riley.

Ndovie is encouraged to hear about concrete action and has further optimism that leaders know it’s just one of many steps needed to create an equal, anti-racist environment.

“When we are able to acknowledge that there’s more to be done, you know, it encourages us to push for more.”

Thacker hopes to have the position filled before the start of the school year.

Today the board also created a Superintendent’s Advisory Council to address racial injustice and discrimination. It’s a group that will meet monthly, and will be made up of parents, students, teachers and administrators.

Superintendent Thacker says the group will represent the races and cultures of the student body and it will help school leaders hear broad experiences. He says they will not only have conversations but they will look at data to fully understand what’s happening.

Thacker says it’s important to brainstorm solutions to end racial injustice within the school district and put them into action.

“And we are able to from that group, have a network of tremendously talented people who can come in and they can provide educational experiences for us, in-service activities, advice or resources and it’s an ongoing initiative for the whole year,” said Thacker.
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Thacker expects there to be about 35 people on the council. Those who want to be on it must apply.

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