Grosse Pointe Park
GPPSS shares diversity plan
By Maria Allard
Dr. Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, left, and Greg Bowens, a district parent and president of the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods NAACP branch, were among the panel members at the Grosse Pointe Public School System’s diversity forum April 12 at Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park.
Posted April 19, 2017
GROSSE POINTE PARK — When the Grosse Pointe Public School System’s strategic plan committee got together in 2015, it focused on various issues, including what could be done to ensure that every student in the district had the academic, problem-solving and social-emotional skills that educators felt they needed.
The committee — consisting of 43 parents, students, staff, administrators and community members — held town hall meetings to seek input from residents. When putting together the strategic plan, the committee also saw the need to include a section on diversity in the district. The district’s Board of Education adopted the district strategic plan in December 2015.
“Over a year ago, we came to the realization that we needed a district plan to better prepare and protect ourselves when social media, national news and local events took center stage,” Superintendent Gary Niehaus stated in a community letter to GPPSS families published on the district’s website at gpschools.schoolwires.net. “Intense planning with the Office of Civil Rights, University of Michigan Diversity Team and the regional superintendent diversity coordinators helped us develop a vision. With input from those group as well as our staff and community, GPPSS has been developing a diversity plan that includes administrative and staff professional development, student participation, and parent and community needs assessments.”
Diversity is the understanding that each individual is unique along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies.
On the evening of April 12, school officials held the diversity forum “Raising Global Leaders” at Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park.
The forum gave officials the chance to shed more light on the district’s diversity plan, which includes implementing ways in the classroom to celebrate the backgrounds of students and staff, accept human differences, use multiple instructional approaches to meet the needs of students, be understanding of global awareness, be technologically savvy, and be culturally connected and cognizant of world events. Through professional development, teachers will incorporate lessons within the classroom setting to include diversity, according to school officials.
GPPSS Director of Elementary Education Keith Howell and Director of Secondary Education Maureen Bur began the evening with a presentation. Tom Wells, president of the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe, moderated the forum.
“Much of our diversity plan is looking from within. It’s not about being the same. It’s about being undivided,” Bur said. “Are we open and willing to listen to other viewpoints? We’re looking for equity. Is every student in every building getting what they need?”
The educators said the diversity plan comes with positive intentions, and the goal is to have open dialogue about differences between students, not just one-way conversations no matter what someone’s point of view or experience is.
“This work is ongoing,” Howell said. “We want our teachers to support students. We want them to know we support them. We want them to feel safe. We want to make sure we build them up when things aren’t going well.”
After Howell and Bur’s presentation, a panel of members from local organizations and schools that included Dr. Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Greg Bowens, a local parent and president of the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods NAACP branch; Barry Checkoway, of the University of Michigan; Anthony Lewis, of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Mark McInerney, Clark-Hill attorney for GPPSS; and Gary Niehaus, GPPSS superintendent, took questions from the audience. Ginni Winters, Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency educational consultant, was scheduled to attend but unable to make it, so Bur sat in for her. Audience members anonymously wrote their questions on cards.
Checkoway is working with several school officials to seek input on diversity from students who attend both Grosse Pointe North and South high schools. Students who wanted to could participate in a survey on the subject.
“A student is the person who knows best about his (or) her experiences in the world,” said Checkoway, who added that he and the students are expected to meet to assess the surveys.
During the question-and-answer segment, one question was “How do you engage those who are opposed to the diversity plan?” Bowens said diversity is already happening and “nobody has to lose something” because of it.
“It’s what we’re living in right now. The way you engage people is to do what you’re already doing right now,” Bowens responded. “We’re trying to enhance the experience.”
One question pertained to how much it cost the district to put on the forum.
“We’re well under $12,000,” Niehaus said.
About the author
Staff Writer Maria Allard covers the school districts of Center Line, Fitzgerald, Van Dyke, Warren Consolidated and Warren Woods, and Macomb Community College for the Warren Weekly newspaper. She also covers the City of Grosse Pointe Woods and the Grosse Pointe Public Schools System for the Grosse Pointe Times newspaper. Allard has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University, and she is in love with the Rolling Stones.
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