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Mount Greylock School Committee Member: Widen Audience for Diversity Discussion
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:44PM / Wednesday, May 18, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A member of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee last week pushed for the district to be more inclusive in its conversations about inclusion.
At Thursday's monthly meeting, Jose Constantine reacted to a report about the superintendent's appearance before Williamstown's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee by suggesting that the DIRE Committee ought not be the sole focus of the administration's community outreach.
"My big concern about the DIRE Committee, and it does incredible work, but that it doesn't speak to the needs or concerns of all families of color or marginalized families in Williamstown," Constantine said toward the end of the meeting. "There is serious distrust of the committee across the community. I think it's important for me to articulate this publicly: There is genuine concern that the real problems that families of color and marginalized families face are being usurped by this particular town committee. I think it's important for us as a district to be as inclusive as possible."
On Friday, Constantine elaborated on his comments, saying he has heard concerns about the nearly 2-year-old equity committee created by the Select Board as an advisory panel.
"This is something I'm hearing from families and community members in Williamstown," said Constantine, one of four Williamstown residents on the seven-person School Committee. "I think it speaks to, probably, the difficulty of the DIRE Committee's remit, that they're to be an advisory committee. I think many members of the community are expressing worry about what the Select Board intended the DIRE Committee to be doing.
"What I'm hearing is there was hope, initially, that the DIRE Committee would be one that could better center the voices and experiences of families of color and other marginalized families in town. As events unfolded with DIRE … as people saw leaders [of the DIRE Committee] step off in protest, that affected people's view of the committee and the role it could play in our community."
In the meeting, Constantine also indicated that it was a concern that the district's efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging could be come too closely identified with a town body in one of the district's member towns.
Superintendent Jason McCandless, who has made DEIB work a cornerstone of his administration, assured the School Committee that all of the district's work is geared toward all three of its schools: Mount Greylock middle-high school, Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary.
McCandless was invited to meet with the DIRE Committee at one of its recent meetings to talk about the number of race-related incidents in the schools and the district's response to those incidents.
He said he expected it to be the first of many such invitations and indicated the meeting was productive.
"At the DIRE Committee meeting on May 2, I got some very helpful feedback," McCandless said. "It was incredibly helpful to hear from parents both in and out of that setting about the expectations they would have for how this would happen that we did not meet. That was helpful."
The next day, Constantine said he wants to see the administration collect feedback from a wider range of voices.
"There are other organizations in town that are grassroots that are doing important work representing the concerns of marginalized families," he said. "I think about the Parent and Caregiver Action Network, a group the district has been communicating with on issues related to DEIB.
"I think the biggest fear for me as a member of the School Committee is: If we only engage with the DIRE Committee, we run the risk of alienating the people we want to be in dialogue with, not just in Williamstown but also in Lanesborough."
In other business on Thursday, the committee voted to update several of the district's policies on harassment, in part to make them compliant with current statutes. And the committee learned that a request for proposals for owner's project manager services has been issued for the district's proposed plan to build a new natural grass playing field and six-lane track. And the committee voted, 7-0, to approve a request to name the Mount Greylock varsity baseball field in honor of former coach Steve Messina.
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