Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Equity in Education
Imagine a world without racism. A world in which all people move freely and without fear. A world in which levels of education and information are accessible to all. A world in which the ideas, contributions, and culture of each individual are celebrated. The mission of Princeton Public Schools is to prepare all children to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society. Read about the Equity Audit Report.
Princeton Public Schools is working on increasing racial literacy and cultural responsiveness among both our staff and our students. Racial literacy can be defined in terms of understanding the experiences and perspectives of those whose cultures and colors might be different than our own. Racial literacy can be defined in terms of our awareness of our own biases. And racial literacy can be defined in terms of our willingness and ability to honestly acknowledge racial issues as they arise and work to address them. As a district, we are striving to do all of those things.
Racial Literacy at Princeton High School
Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, a science teacher, and Ms. Patricia Manhart, a social studies teacher, originated the PHS racial literacy course in spring 2018 in part as a response to student advocacy.
“Just like any youth movement, the students were looking at what was going on close to them, looking at what was going on in the world and saying, ‘Can we do something?’” Dr. Barnes-Johnson remembers. Among teachers, the antecedents for the course went three or four years further back, to conversations led by Spanish teacher Martha Hayden, “who imagined a Socratic or discussion-based exploration that she called ‘transformative pedagogy’.”
The conversation grew to include teachers across disciplines and explored topics including race, ethnicity, language, sociology, technology, and science. Lenora Keel engaged students through the Minority Student Achievement Network. By the time students were making their voices heard about addressing racial equity in the curriculum, there were teachers who had prepared the ground through their own teaching and advising. The high school was able to respond quickly.
Like Ms. Hayden’s transformative pedagogy, the racial literacy course features an interdisciplinary conversation about intersecting topics, including race in the 21st century, history, the invention of race, politics, economics, housing, education, aesthetics, and crime and punishment, says Ms. Manhart. The course culminates with a capstone project the teachers call a transfer product, in which students take what they have learned and “present it outward into the community in order to move other people on their own journeys toward racial literacy,” Ms. Manhart notes.
The racial literacy course has become a linchpin, as the district has begun to expand its curricular offerings for students at all levels. A racial literacy course was implemented this year for pupils in Princeton’s pre-kindergarten through first grade classes. The next step will be to extend that framework into a full revision reaching pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students via social studies and English language arts/literacy. That program is slated to begin in September 2021.
In the meantime, Dr. Barnes-Johnson and Ms. Manhart are pleased to see teachers and staff districtwide receiving racial literacy training, both in person and online. Ms. Manhart works with a team led by Supervisor of Humanities Keisha Smith-Carrington that provides a professional development module called Equity Model 1: Foundational Skills, Knowledge and Dispositions.
Online Racial Literacy Course
This year, Princeton High School has expanded its racial literacy offerings to include PIRL—Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy—an online racial literacy course based on the popular elective taught by Dr. Barnes-Johnson and Ms. Manhart. There were 100 PHS students enrolled in January; another 100 began course in March. It will be a requirement for graduation beginning in 2025. This course explores critical self-reflection, critical humility, and critical love as a foundation for a life-long commitment to anti-racist practice using anonymized, self-paced participation. It is part of a broader continuum of teaching and learning goals to embrace multicultural education and transformative school culture.
The Early Childhood Racial Literacy Project
The district received a grant to engage in a three-phase racial literacy project for Pre-K to first grade. The grant funded:
- Specialized training for the library/media specialists to teach the four domains of racial justice through authentic books featuring diverse characters, authors, and settings.
- New titles for our elementary school libraries and classroom.
- The purchase of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad's book, Cultivating Genius for a district wide, staff book club.
- The cost of Library Media curriculum revision to include a racial literacy lens.
- The updating of library and humanities curriculum based on the Social Justice Standards, a road map for anti-bias education at every stage of K-12 instruction.
Racial Literacy for PreK through First Grade Pupils
The racial literacy curriculum adopted in 2020-2021 for pupils in Princeton’s pre-kindergarten through first grade classes has a strong foundation in pedagogies developed to advance social justice, cultural responsiveness, and multiculturalism.
“All of these are predicated on the belief that any work that you do starts with yourself,” says Keisha Smith-Carrington, supervisor of humanities for grades pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. “The focus begins with understanding our identities, and understanding that each of us has multiple identities through which we experience the world. As part of that, we begin to understand and value others’ identities that are not like ours. By developing an appreciation for others, we begin to see the benefits of diversity,” she adds.
The next concept to address is justice. “Especially the little ones, they understand the concept of what's fair,” says Ms. Smith-Carrington. “So we begin to talk about fairness, as it relates to justice, so that young children can understand whether or not a situation is in the best interest of all of the people involved and can begin to identify when things are not just. Finally, we move toward a conversation about, when they see a situation that is unjust, what might be developmentally appropriate action.”
These four overlapping concepts--identity, diversity, justice, and action--form a curricular framework that is extensible from early childhood through adulthood. Articulated by the early childhood educator and theorist Louise Derman-Sparks in the 1990s, they have been promulgated in teaching standards for grades kindergarten through 12th grade via the Teaching Tolerance program of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dr. Tara Doaty
Extending the Curriculum through Eighth Grade
The next step is to extend the framework into a full revision reaching pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students via social studies and humanities. That program is slated to begin in September 2021. The larger revision will draw on the work of Gholdy Muhammad, a teacher and literacy scholar, whose pedagogy builds on the Teaching Tolerance standards to address what she calls “historically responsive literacy.” Muhammad offers her own four-tiered learning framework:
- Identity development—helping youth to make sense of themselves and others
- Skill development— developing proficiencies across the academic disciplines
- Intellectual development—gaining knowledge and becoming smarter
- Criticality—learning and developing the ability to read texts (including print and social contexts) to understand power and equity.
“In places like Princeton, we are working to develop our students to be intellectual and to begin to have those higher levels of critical thinking,” observes Ms. Smith-Carrington. “Criticality is the question that goes a bit further, because it's not only talking about whether things are just in the ways that we've looked at them legally and based on our own societal norms, but looking at whether they really are equitable--and whether there are actions that should be taken in order to move us toward true equity, and true justice, beyond the letter of the law.”
Teaching the Teachers
The curricular revision requires training, according to Ms. Smith-Carrington. Training began with elementary-level library media specialists and is continuing with all those who will write or teach the revised curriculum from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Ms. Smith-Carrington also envisions a book study program that would be available to interested staff based on Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.
A grant of more than $41,000 from an anonymous donor has supported the curriculum revision plus the acquisition of books for the elementary library collections.
National African American Read-In
For the second year, Princeton Public Schools partnered with the Princeton Public Library to carry out the National African American Read-In. This month-long event (established by the NCTE) was created to celebrate texts written by African-Americans. This year, the committee selected one title that was used to allow the initiative to expand into the visual and performing arts. The text selected for February 2021 was Sing A Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Keith Mallett. This powerful book informs readers of the history of a song known to many as the “Black National Anthem.”
Restorative Justice, Social-Emotional Learning:
A Partnership With Sage Wellness Group
Princeton Public Schools’ partnership with Sage Wellness Group has spanned nearly ten years. During this time, Sage Wellness Group, under the leadership of Dr. Tara Doaty, has provided numerous professional development trainings to PPS staff on topics including social-emotional learning, racial equity, Restorative Justice, and trauma-informed care. Their middle and high school student workshops have allowed students to gain an understanding about Restorative Practices, being an ally, and racial literacy.
- In partnership with Princeton’s community organization, Committed and Faithful Princetonians, Sage Wellness Group provided monthly parenting workshops geared towards parents of color and provided strategies for closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps, how to understand and support their child(ren)’s emotional development, and ways to effectively advocate for their children.
- Sage Wellness Group has also been a community partner and effectively facilitated Study Circles among PPS administration, staff, students, families and community partners focused on utilizing group strengths to effectively identify strategies to address racial equity within both the District and greater Princeton community.
- In 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd, Sage Wellness Group staff facilitated Affinity groups for PPS staff of color and white staff, where staff members were provided a safe space to process their emotions.
- They also created a training series for PPS counseling staff, focused on anti-bias, where monthly coaching sessions are provided.
Dr. Doaty has also served as the Keynote Speaker welcoming PPS staff back to school and outlined tools to support the District’s commitment to anti-bias, equity, and providing safe spaces for learning for all staff, students, and families.
Investing in a Diverse Staff
The Princeton Public School District is proud to be a diverse district, with students from many different backgrounds and cultures attending our schools. We know how important it is for students to see educators who look like them in positions of leadership in their classrooms and schools. We also know that the more diversity we have among our educators, the better our schools will be for all students. Our goal is to attract, develop, inspire, and retain a diverse workforce within a supportive environment, and to foster pride in our vision, mission, and values among all employees.