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Jefferson City Public Schools Implement Diversity Meeting Series

Jefferson City Public Schools

In September, three students from Jefferson City Public Schools posted a picture to social media, posing in from of a car with racist imagery. The Jefferson City Public School’s School Board decided to begin a series of meetings to discuss diversity in their community. KBIA’s Taylor Kinnerup spoke with Jefferson City Public School Board President Steve Bruce about the first in the four-meeting series.

Kinnerup: What kind of structure is there to each meeting and what can people kind of expect?

Bruce: "Well, the first meeting was opened by Dr. [Larry] Linthacum, he had about five or 10 minutes-worth of opening comments that he wanted to share and he went through a number of things that the district is looking at doing to address diversity concerns and to strengthen our school district and, in turn, help lead in our community and strengthen our community in general. The rest of the meeting was taken up by basically a structured activity where the groups, there was about 50 to 60 people present that evening, they broke out into self-selected table groups that took up three basic questions: 'What can I do to strength my community,' 'What can the schools do" and "What can we do through collective action?'

Kinnerup: What would you say is the biggest issue that public schools, maybe Jefferson City Public Schools as a whole or Public Schools in general are facing when discussing hard topics, because obviously there is a line to walk between exposing kids to hard issues but also not over exposing or unnecessarily bringing up hard topics, what would you say the is biggest difficulty?

Bruce: "I think it's the fact that social media has exploded and when you marry that up with our current political dialogue which doesn't have a lot of space for respectful rhetoric back and forth and I mean you know, where in a state in our country where a lot of our discussion is pointed at each other and we're talking at each other and not really listening to one another. As to the other part of your question, you know exposing kids or not exposing them, you know, that is largely a decision that's left up to the administration but from a philosophical stand-point, what I believe and I think the rest of the board believes, is that students, once they're in middle school or high school these issues are things that some of our students confront every day in their daily lives. So for us to be unwilling to talk about them or be, in some way, kind of interested in shielding them or act like they don't exist, is a real disservice to them."

Kinnerup: How do you think students are responding to this?

Bruce: "Well you know, I think it's interesting because I've heard a variety of different responses. From the majority of what of I've been told and what I've heard from either my own daughters or from other families who have students in the district is that while the kids understand and appreciate the fact that this is something that is timely and that we're discussing as a community and as a school district, I think a lot of kids are growing up with a lot more tolerant mindset than perhaps or previous generations."

Kinnerup: Do you have any set goals in regards to the discussion of race for the remainder of your term?

Bruce: "Well I think the things that we're looking at are important ones. I don't know that I have a specific thing that, in terms of a policy goal, that I've settled on yet in relation to this particular topic, but one of the things I do think is important is for our kids to be able to see people of color and people that come from different backgrounds than they do in authority positions. Whether that's a teach or an administrator, I think it gives them a different perspective on life in our community and in the world in general when they see someone that comes from their background or that's similar to them in a position of leadership."

Taylor Kinnerup is a undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, set to graduate in December 2017 with a degree in radio broadcast. Over the past five years, Taylor has worked at four different news station, including an international reporting internship in Brussels, Belgium. She has held various positions in different news rooms but hopes to pursue a career in producing.