Ohio County Schools Team With Diversity Firm

WHEELING — Ohio County Schools is seeking the advice of a firm specializing in diversity training to help create “a more respectful and equitable” atmosphere in the school system, and it’s an effort being praised by West Virginia NAACP president Owens Brown.

The Youth At The Center organization, of Cincinnati, will conduct an audit of the school district’s diversity, then recommend what Ohio County Schools can do to improve relationships among different cultures in its classrooms, said Board of Education member Sarah Koegler.

Work will take place over the summer, and Youth At The Center will be paid by the hour for their consulting.

Koegler was not certain how much the organization will receive per hour, but she said total payment could not exceed $10,000 or the board would be required to bid out a contract.

Youth At The Center does not have a contract with Ohio County Schools, but rather a “memorandum of understanding,” said Koegler.

“Over the summer, they will help us to collect data and review policies already in place to make sure they are written with the thoughtfulness of all diverse backgrounds,” she said. “If they recommend curriculum for teachers, that will be a bigger investment.”

The issue of race relations became a hot topic within Ohio County Schools following racially motivated incidents at Wheeling Park High School that resulted in a fight between students at lunch time, The school needed to call additional resource officers to help keep the peace.

“This was the kick we needed to create a plan,” said Koegler. “We had been thinking what we wanted to do … building a more respectful and equitable culture.

“This group will look at our reality, and make some recommendations,” she said.

Koegler said while they may have been able to find practicioners closer to home to assist them, Ohio County Schools specifically wanted to partner with Youth At The Center because it had worked with Cincinnati Public Schools to improve diversity in the schools.

“They worked with the Cincinnati School Board to do something similar and conduct an ‘equity audit,'” she said. “This told them what could be changed to make their classrooms more equitable and respectful, and they helped them write new policy.”

Ohio County Schools has been working with members of the community, including the Wheeling NAACP, to assess diversity practices in the school district.

“They are attempting to correct problems people were not aware of,” said Brown. “Not everyone was totally happy with the situation in the schools — especially if you are a member of a small minority.

“Because of the small numbers involved, there is a tendency to overlook things that are happening,” he said. “This was not done purposely, but because of lack of interaction between people.”

In the past, when race-related issues were brought to the administration, school officials would act to address the specific problems. But they did not examine what could be at the center of any anger and outbursts by students, said Brown.

“They did not realize there was an undercurrent until this year when trouble broke out at Wheeling Park High School,” he said. “They have been responsive since it was brought to their attention.

“They are looking to correct things, and make sure everyone feels part of the community,” said Brown.

He commended Superintendent Kim Miller and other school officials for reaching out to the community for suggestions on how to make the environment at WPHS “more conducive to harmony.”

“There are not just racial problems — there are also sub-cultures within Ohio County Schools — sexual orientations, and different other groups who identify with each other,” he said. “There are conflict problems.

“Administrators are to be commended for trying to reach out,” said Brown.

Superintendent Kim Miller said since the incidents at WPHS, school district officials have been meeting with community leadership — including those with the NAACP — to determine how the school district can best improve race relations among students.

She said the school district should start by including more race relationship discussion in its professional development for teachers.

“We can do better with our on-going professional development,” said Miller . “Teachers affect what happens in the classroom.

“That sensitivity (they exude) would go home with the students, who might start treating everyone with more kindness. Our goal is to prepare our citizens to be good citizens,” she said.