With longstanding issues related to lack of diverse staffing, plus a deficiency in understanding and providing adequate support for its Black students, the Greater Essex County District School Board is hopeful a newly released strategy will finally pave the way to change.
“We have known anti-Black racism has been an issue in our school board,” said Josh Canty, superintendent of education with the public board. “We have been hearing from the community for many years it is something we needed to address.”
A community steering committee was formed last year and outside consultant was retained to develop a blueprint with specific steps for the public board to follow over the next five years.
The 34-page “Dismantling Anti-Black Racism Strategy” was released Wednesday by the board.
“We retained Turner Consulting who did research through interviews and surveys with our Black students, parents, staff and with community members about what is the nature of anti-Black racism in our board,” Canty said. “They brought that information back to the committee. Along with students and staff, they came up with the strategy.”
The document features five strategic priorities. Among them to create a Black-affirming and anti-racist learning environment, improve the manner in which Black parents are engaged and welcomed within schools, better inspire Black student success, plus not only focus on increased hiring, but properly support Black staff at all levels.
Each guiding strategic priority within the document includes a series of specific actions to be undertaken by the board and schools in the coming months and years.
“Representation is an issue with our staff all across the board,” Canty said. “The staff survey received an 85 per cent response and showed us the lack of representation.
“Now it’s about the hiring and supporting a racialized staff — at all levels — so students can see them and know they can be them.”
Leslie McCurdy, spokeswoman for the Black Council of Windsor-Essex and member of the steering committee, called the strategy’s release a step in the right direction.
“Now it’s about the implementation,” she said. “They need to make sure it’s done properly and completely — not just in pieces.
“They need to take their time, contemplate things in this report and undertake structural change, not just performative things.”
Hiring Black teachers and staff throughout the school system is a first critical step, along with ensuring, for example, Black youth are steered by educators to become teachers and not just educational support workers, McCurdy said.
“Black students need to be streamed into the profession and not away from it as has been done for too long,” she said.
McCurdy described such anti-racism efforts in schools as bring critical step toward global change.
“Education must be the first place to begin that change — not just for students and teachers, but society as a whole,” she said.
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Although the new anti-racism strategy released Wednesday focuses on the board’s Black staff and students, many of the same principles will be applied when it comes to dealing with students of any nationality or background attending public schools across Windsor and Essex County, Canty said.
“The beautiful thing with a strategy like this is we can make sure we are supporting all groups,” he said. “It can be applied to our Islamic students, LGBTQ2 or any one of our students so they feel supported.
“These strategies are designed in the first few years to support our Black students, but the lessons learned will support all students and create equity with all groups.”
The anti-Black racism strategy can be found online on the board’s website at publicboard.ca.