Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Last SlideNext Slide

A new Culture and Climate Committee, formed in the wake of allegations of unchecked insensitivity at LAMP, would like to see some policy changes that will better promote inclusivity across Montgomery Public Schools as well as set aside money to better support student mental health. 

The committee, created by board member Arika Watkins-Smith, includes community members, professors, teachers and parents with backgrounds in social work and law.

More: A reputation to uphold: LAMP grads, families claim toxic, racially insensitive environment at nationally renowned school

Phaedra Foster, co-chair of the committee, said in the times they’ve met they first looked at the results of the Advance Ed report and the culture and climate survey specifically. 

“We started with a review of the student code of conduct as well graduation and retention documents,” Foster said. “What we wanted to see was places where policy might need to be changed because it was an impediment to fulfilling the mission of the district but also where it could be strengthened based on what people in the community were saying were the needs for our system.”

During the last meeting a petition which detailed issues with the school district was brought to the committee, Foster said. 

“We ultimately found most of those issues were related to policy,” she said. “Two issues kept coming up. One, the issue of retaliation, and I do want to say that is not specific to our district. The second was the discussion about diversity and inclusion and what we’re hoping to do is move this conversation along. Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusivity is having a voice and belonging is having that voice be heard. So that’s what we want to make sure we have.”

Stories of inequities came to light on social media after a white LAMP senior posted a video discussing the killing of George Floyd. Online commenters described the video as racist and ultimately, the alumni Facebook group with over 2,000 members was shut down by the former principal and a new alumni group was created. 

Foster continued to ask the board to consider better support services for students should the ad valorum referendum pass. 

“Our district is so big, and it is diverse, and there are a lot of needs. What we’re seeing in this push to be fiscally responsible,is that y’all have combined a lot of jobs,” she said. “There are too many people taking on too many responsibilities. As the conversation goes forth, we need to have the services in our district, we need the resources that are appropriate for a district our size.”

Foster said there are MPS students suffering during the pandemic. 

“They’re anxious because of COVID. We’ve got students who are grieving,” Foster explained. “We are concerned that there needs to be more social workers in the district. We need to make sure there’s a place for our students to call if they need help.”

Watkins-Smith said the board’s job is not to create a positive culture and climate at schools. That job, she said, falls to Superintendent Ann Roy Moore, the principals and staff at each school. 

“School boards can use information from data collected through surveys,” she said. “When done reliably and efficiently, measuring school climate can help improve schools’ vital signs and help school board of education realize their goals and objectives for the system as a whole.”

Watkins-Smith said the climate of a school impacts student learning, achievement, attendance and graduation. A poor school can be especially detrimental to students who already have experienced adversity in their lives or barriers to learning, as well as lead to low-performing schools. 

The board member suggested establishing a student-led club or advisory council to “create a safe space for student voices, which will lead to a welcoming school environment for all youth.”

More: At 18, she leads. Grace Jackson seeks truth, change during Black Lives Matter movement

Grace Jackson, a recent high school graduate and the founder of We Matter Montgomery, presented a proposal for a student council, modeled after one a friend started in Minnesota. 

“This board will allow students to echo grievances of their peers, and allow them to directly advocate for themselves in every area needed,” Jackson explained. “Members will be held in high regard in the community of their schools, as well as in Montgomery, and therefore will be required to go through leadership and communication training provided by We Matter Montgomery.”

For those students who serve on the council, she recommended that they receive community service hours for their time dedicated to the group. 

Jackson outlined a long-term plan for the council to ensure longevity and not a temporary solution. A senior would represent the school, but a junior and sophomore would also be appointed to stand in place for the senior in case of absence as well as to help pass along institutional knowledge for years to come. 

“Students learn the best from students,” Jackson said. “I went to the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar at Cornell University. I went up there for two summers and I thought I was smart before I went up there and those kids showed me there’s so much more that can be done by me and by students like me.”

At the conclusion of the committee’s report, Moore asked them to send her a copy of the policy recommendations to review, as well as the proposal for the student council. On the topic of student mental health, Moore announced that she’d just learned that the school district had been granted $40,000 for student mental health services. 

“I think it involves having a mental health counselor who kind of works with that and that’s all that person does, not just a regular school counselor.” she said. “That 40,000 will not pay the salary, but we’ll figure out a way to make it work. We do realize that mental health is an issue that we need to deal with more in our school system.” 

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Kirsten Fiscus at 334-318-1798 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KDFiscus

Read or Share this story: