Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nathan Parker gave a presentation Thursday at Mayor Jordan Glatt's monthly diversity forum.
Parker spoke of the uniqueness of his own background, having grown up in Atlanta, never attending a desegregated school himself, and then becoming Superintendent in the mostly-black school district of Orange before arriving in Summit.
Glatt also announced his appointment of Celia Colbert, an African American, to fill Patricia Calhoun's now vacant seat on the Board of Education. Colbert is a Washington School parent with many years experience with Merck Pharmaceuticals.
"Everyone at the table has a lot to be proud of," he said.
In his second year in the Summit Public Schools District, Parker said the board has identified goals it would like to reach in the area of student achievement.
Of the graduating class of 2009, 90 percent of white students went on to four year colleges, 50 percent of black students and 58 percent of latino students.
"That is a measure of the discrepancy in achievement," Parker said. "We're not charged with fixing that."
Parker also said the district is working to improve it's staff recruitment. Currently only 2 percent of substitute teachers in Summit are African America or Latino. Parker said this is key because substituting if often a gateway to full-time employment with a district.
"We're trying to bolster the pool of candidates so we're selecting from all segments of the community," he said.
Glatt said it isn't about catering to a certain percentage of the community, it's about creating the right atmosphere.
"It doesn't matter how many people there are," he said. "It's the sense of feel comfortable enough to raise your hand and be heard."
Vanessa Southern, Unitarian Minister, said she's read that the achievement gap widens during the summer when some families cannot afford to have their children participate in enrichment activities.
Parker highlighted the summer school programs the district offered this past summer which did prove to be successful and also said the district is thinking about the possibility of creating teams of teachers to highlight the connections between areas of learning and to create a more realistic learning environment.
Janet Maulbeck suggested that part of the problem may also be there is not just one language gap anymore, that being English. Now, technology is also a communication gap.
Bob Morris said creating a welcoming atmosphere for all people in Summit it indeed critical because more and more familes want to raise their children in diverse communities because they realize this is how the world is.
"This is not a matter of idealism," he said, "but practicality."