Rochester School Committee talks remedying racism 

Jun 8, 2020

ROCHESTER — The Old Rochester Regional School District will start a curriculum review and action plan to address issues of racism and cultural sensitivity, its Superintendent Dr. Douglas White said at a June 2 school committee meeting. 

Although the work is important, and the district believes it is “critical for us not to remain silent as a school system,” it will not be immediate.  

“The work of cultural proficiency is not something that you complete overnight or in one year’s time it's an ongoing commitment and ongoing work,” White said.  

To some degree, administrators believe that the CARES (or Cooperation, Assertiveness, Responsibility, Empathy & Self-Control) motto at Rochester Memorial School will help create a positive environment. 

The school uses “responsive classroom,” a system that integrates academic and social emotional learning in the classroom. School Committee member Sharon Hartley pointed out if teachers are able to show students how to act in a responsive classroom, they will start gently correcting their peers, saying “this is not the way we do things around here,” in response to problematic behavior. 

But, it’s clear that students and parents still appreciate guidance on the topic. 

Recently, the school set up a training by the group Diversity Talks in response to a racist TikTok video by a high school student and racist meme posted by an ORRJHS student insulting George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

The training drew 725 participants from the high school and junior high school. 

Currently, schools address cultural sensitivity issues using a 5 to 10 member cultural proficiency team at each school, and through professional development days for teachers. 

Rochester Memorial School Associate Principal said that he had discussions on matters he has never addressed with teachers, and added, “I think teachers want to have more of that.”

The district set up a joint committee meeting to listen to community members on June 15 at 6:30 p.m. 

In the future, the district will hold more social media training for students, a survey of cultural diversity in the school district, and a curriculum review that considers cultural proficiency, ultimately leading to a multi-step action plan for the district. 

Assistant Superintendent and future Superintendent Michael Nelson said a curriculum should tell more than one story. 

However, he added that reviewing curriculum is a serious process that happens subject by subject, grade by grade and not something that can happen overnight.

Among other questions and concerns, school committee members suggested that the school look into age-appropriate books on the topic and start incorporating them into the school library.