District 203 Officials Ready to Take Action Diversity Plan Comes after a Lot of Research

Article excerpt

Byline: Christie Hart Daily Herald Staff Writer

Naperville school leaders have been talking for nearly two years about how to present students with broader cultural perspectives.

They started with the prodding of parents and community members eager to discuss the benefits of recognizing and embracing the differences among staff members and students.

Now, the Naperville Unit District 203 school board is considering a plan members believe could help prepare students for working in a world of international businesses and living in a society that mixes races, religions and other aspects that make people different.

The diversity plan could change how the district approaches its business and, leaders hope, would improve the way people of different backgrounds regard each other.

"We're looking for a cultural change," Superintendent Donald Weber said. "Every person comes from their (own) perspective, and we have to appreciate the value of everyone."

The diversity plan - put forward by a committee of students, parents, teachers, administrators and board members - takes on issues surrounding hiring and training teachers, presenting culturally sensitive lessons and talking with the community about the changes.

"It speaks to the essence of what it means to live in a pluralistic society," board member Livia McCammon said. "Diversity is about trying to get along. I think this has the steps that will start to eliminate institutional bias."

For the board members, the key component of the diversity plan is a call for teachers to examine how they teach and what they teach for cultural bias.

"I think the plan is advocating some cutting-edge things," said board member Brian Barnes. "The initiatives in curriculum are fairly innovative. There's not a lot of road map there."

As the district re-evaluates teaching materials every year, staff would keep an eye out for anything that presents a cultural opinion as fact or leaves out the perspectives of different cultures.

But rather than stripping the biased materials out of the curriculum, teachers would be encouraged to put the information in context. Teachers should present it as opinion or an oversight and explain why it might have happened, board members said.

"Even if something is bad, sometimes it's important to learn from it," McCammon said. "If we were to start censoring opinions from the classroom, that would be purging diversity from our instruction and that's bad. …