SCOTCH PLAINS-FANWOOD, NJ -- The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education (BOE) has approved a $30,000 professional development and training program to be conducted by Khyati Y. Joshi, co-founder of the Institute for Teaching Diversity and Social Justice, which offers professional development programs for educators and administrators.
A professor of education at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dr. Joshi is the author of White Christian Privilege, a book that examines what she calls "The Illusion of Religious Equality in America." Her belief is that Christianity (particularly the European Protestant strain) has been established as the unacknowledged common culture, not simply religion, of the U.S. and leads to a situation where "anything not white, Western, and Christian is seen as abnormal."
An advisor to policy-makers and a leader in the South Asian American community, Dr. Joshi also wrote and co-edited Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (3rd edition, Routledge, 2015), a widely-used book by diversity practitioners and social justice scholars. She frequently consults with school districts, the judiciary, non-profit organizations, faith communities, and businesses about fostering equity and inclusion.
The Scotch Plains Fanwood Board of Education approved funding the training program during the BOE meeting on Feb. 18. According to the district, the goal of the training program is to achieve an inclusive, cohesive community and institution free from biases.
"One of the reasons we need to do this work is the number of bullying cases I've handled," said SPFK12 superintendent Dr. Joan Mast in an interview with TAPintoSPF. "There have been events, such as (racist) graffiti on the high school, that are disturbing. Families have said that they don't feel safe in our schools."
Dr. Mast said the main objective of hosting this workshop is bringing people together and celebrating diversity.
"We talk about seeing the world through windows and mirrors," added assistant superintendent Dr. Robert McGarry. "It's about being open to seeing people who are different."
The administrators believe that this professional development and training opportunity will enable the school district to increase the awareness of educators, families, and administrators on matters of individual and institutional bias. The goal is to help the school community "build and foster an inclusive and equitable learning environment, thereby improving student outcomes and the overall climate."
The BOE believes this initiative will help develop educational stakeholders who are passionate, committed, and prepared to lead efforts to build inclusive communities by understanding and recognizing the bias that affects the lives of all members of the school community and their families. The training will cover topics including the institutional and societal barriers that impact the education experience of students due the presence of racial, religious, class, gender, and sexual orientation/gender identity biases.
Dr. Mast says that this training is one of the initiatives supporting the SPFK12 district’s 2020-2021 Strategic Goals. Among them are a Board Committee for Wellness and Equity that reviews programs that promote all aspects of wellness within the district, as well as a district Racial Equity Task Force that shares and discusses the steps the district is taking to address any forms of racism, inclusion, and all aspects of equity in our schools.
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