Roanoke County Schools form an equity task force to create more diverse, inclusive staff

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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Educators and administrators in Roanoke County are tackling the lack of diversity in classrooms through an equity task force.

“We know we can’t change the world in a day,” explained Dr. Jessica McClung, Assistant Superintendent for Roanoke County. “We know we’re dealing with things that have been instilled in kids, teachers, parents, but we’re not afraid to look at it and we’re not afraid to come head-on.”

Lori Winbush, the principal at Hidden Valley High School, helped Dr. McClung form the task force. She says she is hopeful about this new plan of attack.

“We have an action plan. We’re going to take a look at how we can obtain and retain hires that reflect our kids,” Winbush said.

Dr. Deneen Evans, a parent of two former Roanoke County students and a current clinical social worker, tried to break down the effects of a lack of diversity. “How would you feel? Would you ever have your child in a school where no one looked like them, no one culturally did things like them?”

Dr. Evans was faced with the same decision when sending her to children to school she said, “What the teachers are expecting from our children are not what we’re expecting.”

Alexandria Gunn is a returning teacher at William Byrd High School, but she says the lack of diversity is something students have commented about.

“They’ll say, like, ‘Ms. Gunn you’re the only one that understands because you look like me.'”

In addition, Gunn says she sees the need for diversity in the staff.

“You can read all the books that you want to, but you can’t walk in that person’s shoes if you don’t look like them,” Gunn stated.

Roanoke County Public Schools no longer has a diversity committee because there were meetings, but little action. Members from that committee have helped to form this new task force and have already put plans into action. For example, the schools are ordering new headsets to help translate for students who are learning English as their second language.

Carina Hughes, a Latina administrator at Northside Middle School, explained that, culturally, many of her students and their parents who do not speak English as a first language feel more comfortable knowing they have someone who can translate.

According to Hughes, many of the eldest daughters in Latina families traditionally will work as translators for their parents. Therefore, she hopes by utilizing that talent for translation and emphasizing the opportunity to teach, she can create more homegrown teachers in the future.

“If we start working on explaining to the kids and trying to get them to get interested in education early, then we can get them involved with teachers for tomorrow,” Hughes said.

The task force includes a wide range of educators and administrators, such as Evan Noell, assistant principal at W.E. Cundiff Elementary School. He says having a more diverse and inclusive learning environment has multiple benefits.

“Our minority students have role models, and people that they can look up to in the classroom, and additionally all our students get an overall understanding of the makeup of our community,” Noell stated.

The group’s next meeting will be held Aug. 6, with a luncheon for minority teachers set to follow on Aug. 20.

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