After a review of agenda items at the Black Horse Pike Regional School District’s July 22 board of education meeting, the session was split into two presentations.
The first was given by Terry Lewis, a representative from the New Jersey School Board Association, who explained how the district could get started with strategic planning.
“Strategic planning is a process, and this is why,” she said. “We want to look five years into the future … You’ve got to know where you’re headed.”
The idea is to create a five-year plan to help the district reach its goals, an involved process that requires the collaboration of multiple committees and meetings with stakeholders such as parents and faculty to establish what is important to the district and eventually create an action plan.
Though there were no actions taken on the topic at the board meeting, it was the beginning of a process. Lewis said that next steps will include creating a steering team, gathering stakeholders and community members and setting up a timeline to create district goals.
The second meeting presentation addressed empathy and equity, as explained by Jordana Simmons and Tara Wood, who are English teachers and equity team members in the district. Superintendent Dr. Brian Repici noted that their presentation combines training that staff and faculty have gone through this year.
The training begins with Simmons and Woods defining terms such as sympathy, empathy, dominant culture and privilege. From there, the two review what empathy in leadership looks like (sincere interest and compassion, genuine perspective and data gathering for informed decisions), as well as what some of the barriers to empathy are. They include resemblance — how much a person in need resembles you and “your people” and comeuppance — whether you think someone deserves to suffer because of bad behavior and or social status. The more powerful or rich you are, the less likely you will be to notice suffering and intervene.
“There are dominant cultures in school structures, and when you hear language like, ‘This is just how things are,’ no, this is how things are for dominant culture specifically,” Simmons explained. “It’s not how they are for everyone, and it becomes very difficult when people outside of dominant culture have to interact, thrive and survive without the full knowledge and awareness of how things really work.
“We are teaching students who … are outside of dominant culture for a variety of reasons, and we have to help them navigate certain parts of the culture,” she added.
During the board meeting’s public comment, parent Denise Nolder asked whether or not masks would be required in school this fall. Repici said that while masks are currently optional and encouraged for those who are unvaccinated, guidance from the state health department could change at any time, and the district would follow suit. He also added that there will be a meeting at Highland High School on Aug. 3 for the reopening team to discuss its plans more in depth. Any caregivers who want to be part of the team can respond to the survey found on the district website.
The site also has a tentative reopening plan that will implement 3 feet of social distancing where possible throughout the school and cafeteria. Masks will be optional in the school, but mandatory on buses, per CDC (Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention) guidelines.
The school board also approved, then announced, welcome back events for students, families, faculty and staff at the district’s three high schools. Triton Regional High School’s welcome back night will take place on Aug. 24, from 3 to 7 p.m., in the school parking lot. Timber Creek High School’s event is scheduled for Aug. 24, from 3 to 6 p.m., in that school’s parking lot. Highland’s welcome back night will take place on Aug. 30, from 3 to 6 p.m., in the school’s outdoor areas.
For more resources on equity or empathy, visit https://sites.google.com/bhprsd.org/towardsgreaterequity.
The next board of education meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 19, following the executive session at 6 p.m.