Saturday, April 20, 2002

Black teacher says Lakota improving

Racial progress too slow, NAACP criticizes

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — Marketing teacher Richard Nesbitt says the Lakota Schools have come a long way in improving racial diversity since 1978, when he became the district's first African-American teacher.

[photo] Richard Nesbitt speaks to Lakota East journalism students.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        For four years, he recalled Friday, he was the only African-American employee and said there were times he was uncomfortable — at Lakota High School where he taught, and in the community.

        In those early days, there were incidents when racial slurs were scrawled on his chalkboard.

        Today, there are nine African-American teachers and he sees a different Lakota — one in which additional cultural diversity training is needed, but a district that is trying to diversify its staff and educate the community on all cultures — not just African-American. At Lakota West, he is adviser to the Multicultural Enhancement Club, a group that began in 1991 as the Black Enhancement Club, but now celebrates all cultures.

        “When I came I was very uncomfortable,” Mr. Nesbitt said. “These students had never had any contact with an African-American in authority. The administration was very supportive and made me feel welcome, but some didn't want me here.”

        Mr. Nesbitt spoke with journalism students at Lakota East on Friday. There is local debate over a recent NAACP letter to the school district saying racial progress has been too slow and calling for sweeping moves that include hiring more black administrators and coaches and requiring all Lakota Schools employees to receive cultural sensitivity training. Five percent of 15,466 students in Lakota Schools are black.

        Mr. Nesbitt said he agrees with parts of the NAACP contentions, but said the group should have talked to Lakota's African-American teachers. He says the district has made progress, that it has African-American role models, and has been trying to recruit more minority employees.

        Senior Jessica Barrington, 18, who is white, said there are problems but most students she knows try to be fair and keep open minds.

        “It's not a utopia here, but it's pretty good,” Ms. Barrington said.


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