Johnson City Schools Committee for Equity working to promote diversity

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In the wake of a critical race theory ban in Tennessee, Johnson City School’s Committee for Equity continues to target instances of systemic racism in the institutions.

The committee comprised of Johnson City Schools staff, community members, business leaders, and students was founded in June 2020. In the meetings, the committee came up with several goals and ways to address systemic problems with equity in the school system.

Since then, the school system has tried to address some of those goals, after which the committee met again in May 2021 to reevaluate and see how to move forward.

Lee Patterson, human resources director, legal counsel for Johnson City Schools and chair of Committee for Equity, told News Channel 11 that the committee set goals based on four different categories:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Leadership
  3. Professional development
  4. Relationships

“Leadership, we added a ‘Teaching as a Profession’ to our CTE curriculum so that we could start to grow our own teachers. That was very important to the community, and that class will begin this fall. So we’re adding that and we hope that we’ll be able to get students interested in that if they stay interested that they’ll stay locally and come back and teach for us,” Patterson said.

As far as relationships, the committee started the Langston Leadership Club for Science Hill students, which was initially comprised of about 15 students.

“We also have administrators who participate in the monthly black/white dialogue. It’s a city-wide dialogue, you’re probably familiar with it, but they’ve been very active in that group so that we can just keep a pulse on what’s going on in the community as well, and hopefully, address some of those issues if they’re relevant to the school to address those. We also had a book study of the book ‘Stamped: racism, anti-racism, and you.’ The participants in that were some teachers, counselors, and some students in Science Hill,” Lee said.

The third category: professional development.

“There was a book study done at Science Hill on the book ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,’ between Science Hill teachers and counselors,” Lee said. “Our Curriculum Council this year, which is a council made up of teachers that meets with Dr. Anderson every year, they did the book study of ‘Culture, Class and Race: Constructive Conversations That Unite and Energize Your School Community,’ and then the other thing we did as far as professional development – and this really goes to leadership as well it kind of did both during our summer conference this year which all of the administrators attend – we did the book study of ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,’ and that was a very enlightening and a good process for our administrators.”

The final category was adjusting the course curriculum.

“We added an African American Studies class in the fall of last year, which we will be continuing again this year. I think it was well-received and is very appreciated by all members of our community, not just our African American community,” Lee said.

As it pertains to the curriculum, Lee said that she had no concerns regarding the new legislation in Tennessee banning critical race theory.

“We have never taught anything but standards,” Lee said. “We teach standards in Johnson City, everything we do is standards-based. So, no, as long as we stick to the standards, and make sure that’s what we’re doing, then no, we don’t have really any. We’re not really concerned about it,” Lee said. “The African American Studies class, we have a book, we have a curriculum, it’s approved by the Tennessee Board of Education.”

As the HR director, Lee said it was important to her to seek out, recruit and retain more teachers of color. This is also an important part of the work for Committee Member and School Board Member Herb Greenlee.

“We need more Black teachers in our school system, or administrators to have some mentors that we can call on to do some things to help our kids along because, in this day and world, it’s the 21st century, it’s not working out the way it should be,” Greenlee said.

Greenlee, a longtime African American community leader in Johnson City, explained that it is important to teach about diversity.

“We just need to talk about it before we can get and move along with it and get the qualified people to be in there to teach and mentor our kids, all kids – black, white blue, or green – they need the mentors because our kids are falling through the cracks,” Greenlee said.

He added that he supports the continuation of the African American Studies class at Science Hill High School.

“When we come up, it was always about civics and talking about the different types of civics. The different programs that they had and how things did, but you know African American Studies is good, and it’s good for the kids to learn about local history, area history, and state history. How we got here. We didn’t fall out of the back of a truck, we got here in some manner, that’s all of us,” Greenlee said.

He also emphasized that he is an advocate for the hiring of teachers and staff of color in the Johnson City school system.

“When we integrated in ’65, we didn’t take a lot of teachers. We replaced teachers in different things – the Black teachers from Langston or Dunbar, or, Douglas elementary schools, and put them in different spots. A lot of them was old enough to retire, a lot of them retired, and we didn’t keep the status quo going by replacing those teachers, and we didn’t have as many Black teachers in our workforce, as teachers, or coaches,” Greenlee said.

Another area the committee is honing in on is discipline.

“Another thing that we, that the committee proposed and that we’re working on is to evaluate our discipline, to see if there are any discrepancies between students of color and students that have different economic backgrounds,” Lee said.

She added that she is still working through the data about discipline within the school system.

But she also said this committee, even though it is not breaking any laws, was not an easy feat.

“Starting this committee in June of 2020 was difficult,” Lee said. “We had a difficult school year, and so I was a little disappointed that we didn’t make more progress, but then when I sat down to make the report to the board and then to draw the committee together I thought, ‘you know what? Did we did do some good stuff, we did make some good progress.’ So, a lot of times in schools, you know, you move slowly, but we’re moving forward and I’m happy about that.”

Follow News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais for updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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