Columbia Public Schools looking at new diversity program

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COLUMBIA – The Diversity Awareness Partnership presented its recommendation to the Columbia Board of Education Monday after completing a cultural audit of Columbia Public Schools. It recommended a five-year diversity plan after presenting its findings from the audit that started in 2016.

If approved by the school board, the plan would be broken into three stages. Stages one and two would focus on the first two years, and stage three would focus on years three through five.

Stage one would deal with teaching students about various cultures and various literary recommendations. 

Stage two would involve collecting data from Columbia families and the implementation of "culture kits and supporting plans for kindergarten and first grade," according the Diversity Awareness Partnership's presentation to the school board.

Stage three would implement culture kits and supporting plans in all grades.

"We really want to embrace cultural diversity, not just by celebrating on a particular day or with a particular kind of song or dance, but to really engage students in meaningful ways so we're embracing their race, their culture, their identity," Columbia Board of Education President Darin Preis said.

He said the goal of the program is to reduce the performance gap between white students and students of color.

Currently, Columbia Public Schools have a higher percentage of Asian, black and Latino students than the state average. 

"It's important that every student have the opportunity to engage in ways that are meaningful to them. So, if they don't see books about people that are like them, if they don't have teachers that look like them, that's the type of thing that we really want to work on and do better with," Preis said.

The next step in the process is the Diversity Awareness Partnership making an official proposal to the school board on how to implement the program and how much it will cost. The school board will then negotiate a contract to implement the program.

Preis said the earliest the district could implement the program is the 2018-19 school year.