By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Correspondent)
Walking down the halls of Sharon High School, students from a wide array of races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures mingle as everyone scrambles to get to class.
Of the 1,121 students enrolled for the 2018-2019 school year, 25.4% are Asian, 6.3% are African-American, 5.3% are Hispanic, and 59.2% are white, according to the school’s profile. But this diversity of the students at Sharon High School sharply contrasts with the largely homogeneous body of staff.
“I think it’s awesome how diverse the students are,” Junior Ari Kane said. “However, our teachers are mostly white and female. While we do have a good deal of non-male teachers, we definitely don’t have a large number of nonwhite teachers, which is something I think we need to improve.”
“The administrative team is actively looking into how we can increase diversity within the applicant pool,” said English coordinator Ms. Rebecca Smoler. On schoolspring.com, a website Sharon uses to advertise for available teaching positions, diversity is mentioned four times in each Sharon job announcement. Sharon is “notable for its diversity and openness to newcomers,” says the site.
“I think that the diversity amongst the staff should mirror the diversity amongst the student population,” said Dr. Cathy Collins, SHS library media specialist. Diversity is “a potpourri, a big mix of students of all colors, ethnicities, ability levels, and talents,” added Collins.
“The teachers are middle aged white women,” said sophomore Jazmin Jennings. “There are no black teachers or hispanic teachers.”
The pool of applicants for a given job posting varies in experience, age, and gender, according to Smoler. “There is little diversity around race and ethnicity,” she said. “We need to prioritize engaging in conversations and activities or programs that push us to learn more about others’ identities and also offer us opportunities for self-reflection on our individuality and group memberships in society,” Smoler added.
SHS is looking to diversify and be more inviting, says acting assistant principal Mr. Chuck Fazzio. “A lot of the teachers of color are teaching in the city, because that’s where the bulk of the population is. If you want to draw people out, first of all you need to make them feel welcome and comfortable and wanted, and I don’t think we do enough of that.”
“It’s a diverse school district, but in regards to teachers and staff, it’s really hard to attract people that look like me, and then also to be able to sustain it,” METCO director Claire Jones said. “We’ve had teachers of color, but they don’t stay. And there’s a reason why they don’t stay….It’s tough in a place like Massachusetts, where it’s predominantly white”
“Years ago…I argued that we needed to advertise in different places…and that if you wanted to draw teachers of color, you needed to advertise in different kinds of magazines and newspapers, which we weren’t doing,” Fazzio said. The department coordinators have discussed advertising job positions with the superintendent, so now advertising is happening in different places, says Fazzio. The 2018-2019 Sharon Public Schools District Plan lists “recruit and retain diverse staff” as a strategic initiative. “We’re not doing enough in the suburbs to say, ‘We really need you to come out, so that kids get a different perspective,’” said Fazzio.
Diversity and cultural competency are different, says Jones. “When you see people that look like you, that’s one thing. But also to feel welcomed and to feel like you can grow and be in a place where you feel comfortable in your own skin is very, very different.”
One of the strategic objectives of the District Plan is to “foster an equitable and inclusive learning environment that ensures respectful and culturally competent relationships,” according to the document.
Small groups of people are working towards trying to become culturally competent, says Jones, such as the Equity Group at the high school, and several book clubs at Cottage Street School and the Sharon Middle School who are reading books about race and culture. “Really trying to dive into professional development, providing really safe spaces for people to have dialogue about it” will help advance us towards cultural competency, says Jones. But she adds that a lot of work still needs to be done, and it needs to be district wide.
“ADL, the Gay Straight Alliance and other SHS clubs are doing very meaningful work to raise awareness about diversity and equity issues and to create a warm, welcoming environment for our school community through special programs, guest speakers and projects,” Collins said.
“Celebrating diversity is incredibly important, and at the same time, there is also a great deal of inequity and injustice in our society,” said Smoler. “We have an opportunity to educate ourselves and each other to address ignorance, build empathy, and take action towards change.
“You show how a school is inclusive and diverse by how you treat the people in it,” said sophomore Naya Alani.
“I’ve always been taught to not base my opinion or actually care about somebody based on how they look. I do it based on what’s on the inside,” said sophomore Elle Poulton. She says that treating people properly is what matters. Alani, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, and Poulton, a member of the Black Student Union, are both actively working with their respective organizations to promote diversity, acceptance, and ultimately, cultural competency.
“We’re trying to empower ourselves because there’s a small amount of us at our school,” said Poulton. “It’s better than not having unity at all, having a few people who look like you, be able to talk to you about things that they go through as well.”
“Students benefit from having at least one educator in the building who looks like them, and other students would benefit from having more teachers who don’t look like them,” Smoler said. “If you’re a white student in Sharon, the odds are you will have many teachers who are also white. There are advantages to having teachers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, so all kids do benefit when you have a more diverse staff.”
“The more you surround yourself with people who are different, it allows you to be a better global citizen,” said Jones. “That’s the environment I want to work in, but it’s also the environment I want for children, so that when they go out into the world they can be productive citizens.”