Updated on Sept. 29

WESTFIELD, NJ — Grants from a nonprofit that supports education in Westfield's public schools will go toward racial literacy — teaching students how to recognize, respond to and counter forms of everyday racism, school officials said Thursday.

The two grants totaling $38,453 from the Westfield Education Fund will pay for books and other materials that explore inclusiveness, diversity, fairness and equality — in addition to teachers’ professional development on such topics, the district announced.

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“It’s something that’s taken for granted, sometimes, that teachers automatically know how to address race, look at racial literacy and those important issues,” said Paul Pineiro, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and programs, in briefing the school board Sept. 8.

The district had last year conducted an audit of the diversity of its textbooks and was looking to improve the materials across grade levels, Pineiro said. State aid cuts, the result of the pandemic, reduced the school district's budget. This jeopardized the district's plans for the textbook update, Pineiro said. 

And it happened amid a national call for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd — a Black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer — something high school students in Westfield responded to by organizing a 2,000 person strong protest at which the students recounted the racism they had experienced in local public schools.

So, Pineiro said, the district turned to the Westfield Education Fund for assistance.

A portion of one grant will fund professional development, including a November visit by educational consultant David Schwartz, the founder of Creative Options for Progressive Educators, which works to promote social justice and diversity in education. He previously worked for “Facing History and Ourselves”— an organization that focuses on diversity in education.

During the last academic year, then-Supervisor of K-12 English Language Arts Dr. Tiffany Jacobson and K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies Andrea Brennan had examined classroom libraries in grades K-5 before recommending additional titles that provide a richer and more diverse experience, school officials said.

The two then worked together to create the K-12 Racial Literacy Training Proposal, officials said.

“Race remains a sensitive and sometimes polarizing issue, one that leads to silence and avoidance in classrooms and communities,” Brennan said in the release. “The first step toward achieving racial literacy involves understanding how race and identity play a role in the decisions we make as leaders, educators, students and students.”

Through community donations, the Westfield Education Fund supports projects that strengthen the academic experience but fall beyond the school district budget, the nonprofit's mission states. In this case, the project is intended to help in teaching children how to recognize, respond to and counter forms of everyday racism.

“Racial literacy is a skill that all students need to successfully navigate our increasingly diverse, global society,” said Nicole Breslow, president of the Education Fund. “WEF is proud to support this important initiative and its goal of deepening understanding of race, gender, power and privilege among the district’s administrators, teachers, students and parents.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to better reflect the qualifications of David Schwartz. He is the founder of Creative Options for Progressive Educators, which works to promote social justice and diversity in education.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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