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First Listening Session with BH Schools held in November. Informative, Insightful, Inspiring.


Thank you to all who joined the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council and the Berkeley Heights Schools/BOE on November 18 for our first Community Listening Session focused on Diversity and Inclusion in the Berkeley Heights Schools. As many of you shared that night, we agree that it was a great opportunity for open community dialogue. We strongly believe that continuing to offer open and welcoming dialogue about tough topics will be critical to creating a more open and welcoming community in Berkeley Heights.


We are grateful for the robust attendance that included District Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley, Board of Education Members Doug Reinstein, Chris Reilly, and Michael D’Aquila, Building Principals Rob Nixon, Patricia Gasparini, and Jon Morriseau, and District Administrators including Marybeth Kopacz, Laurie Scott, Kevin Morra, and Grace Acosta. They were joined by approximately 60 community members and a thoughtful and insightful discussion was held about how to continue to make the BH schools increasingly more welcoming and inclusive.


Dr Varley, along with school diversity committee leaders gave an overview of the work they have done this year including creating committees, filling key roles and setting goals for district-wide as well as building-level Diversity Committees. Dr. Varley stated; “It is critically important that every child feels welcomed and accepted when they come to school. The Diversity committees begin us down this path by celebrating our differences, communicating our vision, providing educational opportunities for both students and teachers, and creating safe spaces for difficult conversations, and empowering all students to take ownership of an inclusive culture. Building this Inclusive culture is central to the District's mission, and we are completely committed to it and would not delay it for anything, even the COVID-19 pandemic.”


The session allowed for residents to ask questions and raise important issues, either directly or via the Zoom chat function. What resulted was interesting, insightful and thought-provoking discussion. Some topics covered included:

  • Expand diversity within the district’s curriculum - in both depth of content and breadth of subject matter.

  • Expand the hiring of a more diverse staff of teachers, and administrators- something the district is currently addressing but will take time to see changes

  • District Diversity Committees - how were they formed? When will parents hear about the work they are doing?

  • LGBTQTIA+ - integration into the curriculum, especially sex education

  • District survey about diversity and inclusion focusing on outcomes

  • Training provided to teachers staff and administration. Can it also be expanded to other adults in the buildings including lunch aides?

The BHDC encourages residents to continue to brainstorm about other ways to continue to encourage this ongoing open and honest dialogue. We invite you to join the BHDC and the schools at the next Listening Session which we expect to host in February. We are committed to continuing these sessions as well as offering other new and different ways to continue to increase dialogue and open lines of communication.


To learn more about the BHDC, please visit our website (www.BHDiversity.org). If you have questions about this Listening Session, about the BHDC/Schools Partnership or have other ideas or suggestions for the BHDC, please email the BHDC Executive Board (BHDiversity@gmail.com). To address the Berkeley Heights School District directly, please either contact your child’s building Principal (if you have a child in the district) or the Board Secretary, Donna Felezzolla, at dfelezzola@bhpsnj.org.


Originally published in TAPinto Berkeley Heights, January 14, 2021

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