Diversity, inclusion program begins at PISD

By Aubrey Turner
For the Prosper Press
The Prosper ISD board talked diversity and inclusion at its most recent meeting.

Federal funding to cover costs

During the March 16 Prosper ISD School Board meeting, the board unanimously passed the contract hiring of Creative Energies for a diversity and inclusion program for all staff.  There was little information available to Prosper residents and some parents were concerned with the amount of money spent and the goal of the program.  Additional information has been provided by the school district to alleviate concerns.  

According to the district, “Creative Energies was selected to provide individual coaching to administrative teams on how to remedy the over-identification of special education students in the area of discipline. This decision was based on the notification received from the Federal Government that a percentage of the federal funding we receive for special education would need to be utilized to remedy disproportionality in the area of discipline. The money that is being spent on this individual coaching is federal money and not Prosper ISD tax dollars.”

Prosper ISD parent Maleka Newsome works as a consultant and recruiter for companies to diversify leadership teams. 

“If you are not in the diversity box, you are not thinking about it,” Newsome said.  “However, if you are in the diversity box, you are always thinking about it.  We are all shaped by our experience and our culture.  Frankly, the events of 2020 have accelerated the need for learning about diversity and inclusion.  Now there is more sensitivity about inclusivity."

She also said  schools want to equip their teachers to work with their colleagues.

“My son goes to Rock Hill High School and it is much more diverse than other schools we have seen in all of Prosper,” Newsome said.  “I know they also hired a diverse principal for the new elementary school.  Most diverse hires have more education than the non-diverse candidates.  It benefits everyone to hire diversity.”

She continued talking about the importance of inclusivity and having systems that attract a wide applicant pool.

“As Prosper continues to grow, there are more people of color entering the district,”  Newsome said. “We need to recruit teachers that look like the students.  If we are going to retrain the teachers we already have, these amazing non-diverse teachers that Prosper already has, we need to train these teachers to work with their diverse peers.”  

Newsome addressed the cost of these types of programs. 

“With the events of 2020, especially surrounding race, businesses and schools are all seeking this type of training,”  Newsome said.  “It is basic supply and demand economics, and that is not the fault of Prosper ISD.  There are not many diversity and inclusion programs, so they found one that was a good fit for the district and they have to pay whatever the rate is right now.”

Megan Oatis has her Masters in Early Childhood Education and has learned about anti-bias training. 

“I have a good understanding of what this training entails,” Oatis said. “I think this training is important.  The teachers are learning how to remove their bias so they are more inclusive in the classroom.  Regardless of the teacher’s race or culture, you carry your own bias from your life experience.  This training teaches educators on how to leave their bias at the door.  This bias may be passive and you may not realize that you have said something that is hurting students who may be people of color who are disadvantaged.”

She believe Prosper is a progressive district.

“This district wants to be on the cutting edge of education for their teachers," Oatis said. "This is expected of a leading district so they continue to have high standing in the community. I think that this is a great plan and I am glad the district is doing this type of program.”  

Some parents do not think that this spending is appropriate without information first provided to the residents. 

Caryn Kerkman has six children in Prosper ISD schools. 

“Very little is known about this program,” Kerkman said.  “I feel that the school board should have given the parents more information about the company and the goals.  I feel like the school district recognizes that there is a problem, but we have not heard anything about this.  I do not know if there is a quantifiable problem and I am not sure that this is the proper response to the problem.  I moved to Prosper because of the education that students receive.  This type of diversity program is controversial, and I think that the board should talk with the parents before passing this program.”

While learning about this program was not the initial reason for Kerkman's visit to the school board meeting, she was glad to hear about what was taken place regarding the diversity program.

“They passed spending without informing people there was a problem.  In my experience, when there is a problem, the teacher contacts me," Kerkman said. "It does not feel publicized and that is frustrating to me.  I do not care if it is federal money, it is still something that we are paying for in one way or another.”