SOUTH FAYETTE SUPERINTENDENT ADDRESSES DIVERSITY CONCERNS AFTER CONTROVERSY
DR. LOCKETTE SUPERINTENDENT OF SOUTH FAYETTE SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONSES TO THE SLAVE TRADE SITUATION
May 8, 2021
Earlier this year, South Fayette High School became the focus of a controversy that made national news. A history teacher handed out a slave trade assignment for students to complete, asking them to imagine themselves as a retired British naval officer who had to calculate the number of slaves that could safely be transported aboard a ship.
This piece of homework was reported to the district’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, Dr. Chuck Herring, with complaints about the racial insensitivity of the assignment. As a result, that history proctor was suspended for their actions.
We wanted to find out more about this controversy, so The SIREN conducted an email interview with Dr. Ken Lockette, the superintendent of the district, on this topic:
JD: South Fayette has faced other race-related issues in the past. Do you think there are community factors that have led to these concerns? How has this history informed the district’s approach to controversies like the slave trade assignment?
Dr. Lockette:“I came into the district three years ago advocating for and promoting a multi-pronged approach to address diversity, equity and inclusion for South Fayette. You can see this embedded in the district’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan with cultural and global competencies. The plan addresses curricular audits, including the literary canon; hiring practices to have a more diverse staff; diversity training for culturally responsive teaching; and creating space for student and community engagement. We have made great progress in all areas, including some changes to the literary canon, new policies on diversity, teacher training and professional development, and student voice, which SHOUT, our student advocacy group, was born from. However, as much as we have been proactive, there have been race-related issues. The issue is that our country as a whole, not just South Fayette, is facing two pandemics, one of COVID-19 and the other of social justice, which is systemic. What we have seen in our district is happening in many districts and is a reflection of our country as a whole. There is much work yet to be done.”
JD: As a follow-up to that question, on the South Fayette website, I saw that you were formerly the superintendent of Avonworth School District. I looked on their website and saw that the diversity rate — specifically, African-Americans — was 15 percent and South Fayette’s is one percent. Can you speak about the challenges that might come with having such a comparatively low African-American population in this district?
Dr. Lockette: “I was the former Assistant Superintendent at Avonworth. The demographics of the districts may have some differences, but the bottom line is that all students, no matter how large or small the percentages, deserve to have a sense of belonging and feel cared for and safe.”
JD: As the superintendent of South Fayette, how do you propose to connect the minorities in the community who may feel threatened, and those who may not understand their experiences with racial injustices?
Dr. Lockette:“Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had assembled and invited parents of color and parents who have children of color for discussions about race with diversity consultants and district administration. We are reassembling this group this spring or summer and are inviting more people to the table.”