PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee vows to seek more minority teachers and improve the educational experience for the city's African-American students.
The committee's pledge for better diversity in the Pittsfield Public Schools follows claims by the local chapter of the NAACP that the school district has a poor record of hiring African-American educators and how it treats African-American students different than whites.
"If we can put aside our egos and come to the table, we can move mountains," said committee member Cynthia Taylor.
The NAACP Berkshire chapter has been critical of Pittsfield's lack of minority diversity at City Hall and on Wednesday night, the organization took aim at the 6,000 student school district.
The school system with a student enrollment that's 11.6 percent black has as about five African-Americans among the 600 teachers, according to school officials.
Speaking before the seven-member board, chapter president Will Singleton called that gap "unacceptable."
"Students need to see teachers who look like them," he said. "A diverse teaching staff benefits all children."
NAACP member Dennis Powell also spouted statistics -- from what year wasn't revealed -- that showed 7.6 percent of whites are disciplined in the 12 city school buildings; blacks, 18.2 percent.
Powell took to task the city's Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), designed to help troubled students stay in school.
"The majority of youth there are color ... something has to change," he said. "How can you take a facility not fit for criminals and stick our youth there?"
Powell referring to the 144-year-old former Berkshire Cou-
nty Jail and House of Correction on Second Street partially converted several years ago into the JRC.
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon was "shocked" by the NAACP data.
"I understand what you're saying," she said.
Prior to the NAACP presentation on Wednesday, school district officials were already taking steps to attract more African-American candidates for teaching and administrative positions.
Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless recently told committee members the search for candidates for three soon-to-be vacant principal positions in July will remain open for the time being. One reason, he said, is that job postings have lured only one person of color to apply.
This despite new posting policies approved earlier this year to ensure they were seen by minority students and professionals. And the district has joined the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education, which has a posting component for employment opportunities.
McCandless will also propose within the next two weeks a separately funded, multiyear program to foster a network with sources for minority applicants and to retain employees of color who are hired.
The local NAACP is currently working with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, City Council and a reactive Affirmative Action Comm-
ittee to update the city-wide affirmative action plan initially developed in 1991.
Besides more employment diversity within the school district, the local NAACP believes Conte and Morningside, the city's two elementary schools with the highest percentage of black students at 25 and 17 percent respectively, have been short-changed when it comes to renovations.
While the district is seeking state financial help to upgrade the community schools, some improvement can be don in-house, according to McCandless.
"There are things the city can do short of full-blown renovation," he said.
NAACP school plan
Berkshire chapter of the NAACP has presented a five-point plan for improving the Pittsfield Public Schools:
n Eliminate barriers to equality for persons of color that include the hiring and promotion of staff, student access to facilities and educational resources, how students are disciplined in school.
n Quarterly reports on the ethnic and economic make-up of students for each grade and school. Reports to include graduation and truancy rates and number of students in the juvenile resource center.
n Adopt and implement a plan with specific measurable outcomes for above mentioned goals.
n Fully fund a program of cultural competency training, support for and actively recruit teachers and staff of color and through review of such practices.
n Fully fund and implement renovation for Conte and Morningside community schools.