03/28/19: Board updated on district's diversity, inclusion progress

By Gary Weckselblatt

In the year and a half that Laura Lomax has worked with school employees to help make Quakertown Community School District a more welcoming environment, she has found QCSD to be similar to other districts and organizations.

"You all have a wonderful institution," Ms. Lomax, vice president of programs for Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI), said during her presentation to the School Board on March 28, 2019. "The scientific name is that you are in a place really respecting commonality and maybe needing to look more at differences. But that's where every school district and most organizations in the world are, right in the middle."

PSBI brought its "Welcome Workplace" program to the district, where it gave 473 confidential assessments to district employees, including administrators, teachers and School Board members assessing their own personal views. PSBI followed up those surveys with confidential, one-on-one discussions with each Board member and administrator, and held group meetings with teachers at each school. It also helped the district set up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

They are among several steps the district took following an Oct. 6, 2017 incident, when two middle school students shouted abusive epithets at Cheltenham's cheerleaders following a football game at Alumni Field.

Ms. Lomax recounted the "troublesome situation" that Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner, his administrative team and the School Board have dealt with. PSBI was hired to examine the district's climate.

There were several questions that had to be answered, she said.

  • How do we mend this community?
  • How can we restore that all teachers, students and administrators feel safe?
  • How do we make new families feel welcomed?"
  • Is Quakertown a welcoming school district.
  • Are they meeting all students where they are, and guiding them to success?

Ms. Lomax went to each building and met with teachers and non-instructional staff.

"I heard the stories about how heavy this situation really weighed," she said. "And I heard the stories about how the educators really cared about each of these students. I was very heartened by that. Lastly, we created a district-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. ... We wanted to really bring in everybody together.

"This whole thing about human interaction is not a perfect science," she said. "I like to think of it as porcupines. People kind of brush up against each other and every once in a while get prickly. But really, you all have a wonderful institution. ... Thank you so much for having Pearl Buck here. With the continued empathy, resilience, and ongoing learning, you all will achieve your end."

She commended the effort Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Hoffman, who helped facilitate several committee meetings, and added, "I feel you're on a path to really turn these things around."

Board President Steaven Klein, who sat in on several of the committee meetings, said "The work that's being done is really important, and you've got committed individuals on that committee. I just wish that we had more community members come out and participate in it. But thank you so much for coming here, for doing the work that you've done."

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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