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Mount Greylock Group Works to Promote Inclusion in 'Incredibly Undiverse Building'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A Mount Greylock Regional School committee charged with exploring issues of diversity, equity and inclusion last week began a conversation with the wider community about how to make the middle/high school a more welcoming place for all residents.
The DEI Working Group of the Mount Greylock School Council hosted a 90-minute virtual conference on Tuesday attended by more than a dozen community residents, including several with ties to other groups addressing the same issues.
"So many of us talked about our commitment to racial diversity, cultural diversity, special ed … we also reached out to the GSA [formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance], but they weren't able to attend," Julia Bowen said. "When we talk about DEI, we are talking about all different types of diversity.
"Even though racial diversity and racial justice is so present right now, all of it is super important."
School Council co-Chair Andrea Malone explained that the council is different from the School Committee.
The latter serves the entire PreK-12 district and has jurisdiction over approving the budget requests that the district sends to its member towns, hiring and firing school superintendents and approving district policies.
The School Council, on the other hand, is specific to the building. The Mount Greylock School Council is one of three in the district, and its membership, which includes teachers, parents, students, administrators and members of the community, is responsible for developing a School Improvement Plan. The SIP, in turn, is presented to the School Committee, which uses the plan to inform its deliberations on the budget.
Mount Greylock has had diversity, equity and inclusion as a stated goal for a couple of years with the objective of cultivating "thoughtful, reflective citizens who will be prepared to engage in a diverse society," according to the SIP.
Bowen said the DEI Working Group decided to expand its reach in order to get more perspectives on how to implement that goal.
"We all felt that those of us who were working on writing this goal were not a diverse enough group to represent all of the interests out there," Malone said. "So we thought that starting this year, instead of those of us on School Council developing a diversity, equity and inclusion goal in a vacuum that we would create a working group and try to bring in people from other organizations throughout the community to help feed into our goal and inform the specifics of what that goal looks like."
On Tuesday, the working group was joined by several members of the town's Racial Justice and Police Reform group, one member of town hall's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, a member of the School Committee and the director of the Williams [College] Center at Mount Greylock, among others.
Much of the meeting was spent discussing the actions the school already has taken to foster diversity, including the school's engagement with the Elizabeth Freeman Center and hosting speakers and discussions with the Greylock Multicultural Student Union.
Academically, that means changing the humanities curriculum to "look at diverse perspectives."
"New texts purchased to reflect diverse experiences; new English reading lists to allow for productive discussions of bias and racism," the School Council reports.
Students also are exposed to anti-bias training developed by the Anti-Defamation League, and Mount Greylock has instituted a program called "Curating a Culture of Respect," which uses lessons in art at the Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Williams College Museum of Art to teach principles of inclusion.
In addition to presentations for students, Mount Greylock has instituted an "anti-racist" book study with faculty and staff invited to read and discuss sociologist Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility," and "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You," by novelist Jason Reynolds and historian Ibram X. Kendi.
Reynolds recently addressed the entire school community virtually as part of the community read of "Stamped."
Kerri Nicoll, a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts professor who serves on the town's DIRE Committee, said the school should consider expanding the reach of such "community reads."
"We're trying to have these conversations in the community as a whole, and I think it would be really beneficial to connect speakers that are coming, reading 'Stamped,' those kinds of things with at least parents, if not more people in the community," Nicoll said. "I think when we do these things with middle and high school students and they go home to a family that may have very different ideas about what diversity, equity and inclusion mean or whether or not they care about them — we all know as educators that we can't do everything in the school. There's other stuff going on in the students' lives, other voices they're hearing.
"Having the talk with Jason Reynolds, I'm not a parent at Mount Greylock, and I don't know how this came about, but if something can go to parents that says, 'Jason Reynolds is talking. Here's what he's going to be talking about. Maybe when your kid comes home tonight you can have a family conversation about it.' "
A couple of participants at Tuesday's forum suggested the school be thoughtful about the speakers it does bring to campus.
"I feel like there's something off about the fact that all of our diversity training is led by the same two people, basically," Mount Greylock teacher Rebecca Tucker-Smith said. "I think they're great. I think Kelli [Shuff-Heck] is great when she comes in to talk about LGBTQ issues. I feel like we've had some great people.
"But it's a fact that if it's one person you're seeing over and over, you're narrowing your vision of that narrative in a way that's sort of a disservice to our students. We have an incredibly undiverse building, and the fact that the Black man who comes in every year is the same person — I appreciate him so much, but I think that is an issue."
Likewise, the School Council was told, do not pigeonhole Black speakers by only inviting them to talk about DEI issues.
"[Tucker-Smith] was talking about having the same speakers, and I would definitely echo that," Nicoll said. "If the students are always hearing from the same people about the same topics, they start to think, 'That person cares about this,' not that this is actually something bigger in the world.
"I also really encourage you, when thinking about speakers, bringing in diverse speakers to talk about things other than diversity. I think that's really important that we don't bring in Black speakers just to talk about race. Let's also bring them in to talk about quantum mechanics or whatever they are experts in so students see all kinds of different people are experts in different things, and we don't only listen to people of color when we're talking about race."
In addition to getting new ideas, the School Council also heard encouragement to keep working on the initiatives it has under way and to let the community know about them.
"I would love to see you communicate more of how you exist in this school structure," parent Erin Keiser-Clark said. "And also what you are doing. I think there's too much void of not knowing, which is causing stress, unnecessary great stress.
"[More communication] also allows everyone to live into this intention of full inclusion by really putting it out there."

Tags: diversity,   MGRS,   

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Williamstown Housing Board Advised to Focus on 'Below Market' Demographic

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust this month was encouraged to focus its activities on creating opportunities for people earning just less than the area median income.
A well-known local real estate developer and the CEO of Berkshire Housing Development Corp. both told the body that there are more funding options for from state and federal sources for housing aimed at those making 60 percent or less than the AMI than for those earning 80 to 100 percent of AMI, a federal measure that depicts a number that half of an area's population earn above and half earn below.
"If there is a demonstrated need for 60 percent [below AMI], funds are available," David Carver told the trustees at their November meeting. "Your local funds should be directed to 60 to 100 [percent AMI] because that's where it gets difficult for the private sector to handle it and not possible for [BHDC's] projects to do it."
The board invited Carver and BHDC's Eileen Peltier to share their thoughts about the business of developing affordable housing and advise the body on how it might direct its efforts.
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