Owensboro Public Schools Board of Education member Michael Johnson thinks the district’s new Equity Task Force is long overdue.

The task force began as a result of racial injustices taking place across the nation. It currently has 105 members, including Johnson. Its goal is to identify and try to solve prejudices in education locally, especially pertaining to race and other disparities.

Johnson said right now the task force is essentially starting the conversation, which is important.

“We are laying the groundwork to be able to identify inequities in education,” Johnson said. “From that conversation, we will be able to develop a plan, and also implementation of the plan, and of course, work on advocacy and outreach.”

He also commended OPS Superintendent Matthew Constant for getting the ball rolling on the task force by inviting both Johnson and NAACP President Rhondalyn Randolph to help facilitate conversation within the group.

Johnson said when it comes to difficult conversations like this, “you have to start somewhere,” and he is glad Constant took the initiative to get things started.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity to get employees, and staff involved in something as important as this,” he said. “It gives them a voice to be able to talk about some of the inequities that are in education, and beyond that.”

Constant said the task force began with a video sent to all 750 OPS employees. From there, 105 individuals responded and said they wanted to participate, and Constant broke up discussions into five virtual listening sessions that have taken place all week.

“Now I am having a couple of those conversations with folks, and what is turning up are some issues that we definitely need to address within our own staff,” he said.

He said members of the task force have brought to public light instances of systemic racism, and the need for more diversity within OPS staff, especially teachers.

The next phase of this task force is to bring students and their families into the conversation, Constant said.

“We feel like we’ve got to have those voices in the mix as well if we are to make some lasting change,” he said. “It is my goal that we don’t window dress this issue, but that we face it head-on. We have tough conversations, and then we act on those.”

Both the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro and the Hager Foundation have both stepped in to provide $5,000 each to the cause, and publicly announced their intent to support OPS in its endeavors.

In a public letter, both PLFO Executive Director David Boeyink and Hager Educational Foundation Executive Director Keith Sanders issued statements of support, saying that “both foundations seek to expand opportunities for disadvantaged families in Daviess County, whether these opportunities are in early childhood education of economic empowerment.”

Constant said he and other task force members are grateful for the support of these organizations because whatever action comes from their work might be a drain on some resources, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

These actions are necessary and cannot wait, he said.

“This is an issue that is timely and I can’t believe we are still talking about some of these things in the year 2020,” he said. “But we are, so we have to deal with them now.”

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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