SPARTA, NJ – Before there were marches and protests, the Sparta school district was taking a look at diversity. Social Studies and World Language Supervisor Scott Kercher presented the preliminary work of the Sparta Diversity Council at the Sparta Board of Education meeting on Thursday at the high school.
Kercher explained the committee had grown out of state statutes including:
Amistad Law requiring New Jersey public schools to include information about contributions made by African-Americans into the curriculum,
Holocaust Law requiring New Jersey public schools to include instruction about the Holocaust and genocides in the curriculum as well as “emphasizing the personal responsibility that each citizen bears to fight racism and hatred,”
LGBT and Disabilities Law requiring New Jersey public schools to inform students abut political, economic and social contributions made by people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through the curriculum in middle school and high school.
According to Kercher the council will be using the key concepts in these foundational mandates to update the curriculum where needed and create opportunities for co-curricular activities where appropriate.
The Sparta council will be joining with more than 70 other districts through the Kean University Diversity Council on Global Education and Citizenship, Kercher said. He is working with Kean’s program to be able to have Sparta act as a host for general assembly and student meetings. The program will also give faculty access to a 12 credit post-baccalaureate Certificate in teaching the Holocaust and Prejudice Reduction.
This year Kecher and teachers William Brennan, Lauren Gomez and Melissa Fitch spent this year researching the Kean program and organizing to prepare to work with students.
“Had we not been disrupted by the closure, our plan was to establish clubs and have an initial meeting in June,” Kercher said.
They attended three events at Kean University including a General Assembly for advisors, High School Leadership conference and Middle School Leadership Council. The assemblies provided guidelines and training to meet the state mandates for the LGBTQ and Disabilities mandate as well as set up plans for future events.
The Sparta faculty took that information back to the district and began to work on the structure and framework of the Sparta Diversity Council, Kercher said.
Supervisor of Pupil Services and Anti-Bullying Coordinator Saskia Brown announced the formation of the "We are the Dream" club at the board of education meeting on June 25. The student driven group at the high school had pursued the idea of the club, garnering support of Brown and principal Ronnie Spring.
The We are the Dream club was officially adopted at the June meeting with Brown and teacher Kate Brennan as advisors.
In his presentation, Kercher said the council consists of at least one faculty member from each school, “diverse school and community stakeholders,” along with two high school and two middle school students. This group will be gathering personal stories for a bi-monthly newsletter from each building.
The council will further have four working groups, each tackling a different aspect of diversity and the mandated requirements. They are:
- Religious Belief.
Each month resources will be updated and made available to the community, Kercher said. The group will be sharing information on these concepts with the whole Sparta School District community, as appropriate for students, staff, administrators and family members.
Speaking about Kercher and Brown acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said, "Individually and collaboratively, they have provided a forum and a platform to address important issues such as diversity, racial injustice and acceptance of all in our schools. Their work and groups will provide the voice and input we need to ensure the Sparta Schools are inclusive and embracing of all of our students. We look forward to the opportunities they will provide for our students, our educators and our community."