February 22, 2023
By Heath Scofield, Pickerington Online Intern
In August 2021, Pickerington Schools brought Dr. Michael Jackson on board as Director of Diversity and Engagement (DEI). Since that time, Jackson has implemented many changes in the hopes that someday, everyone in the district (students, staff and administration) will feel that they belong.
“Some of the challenges that I face are wanting to fast forward time to when our district DEI program is up and running like a well-oiled machine, being able to work with more staff members more often and finding the time to continue to train and engage in professional learning opportunities for myself,” Jackson said. “Time is always at a premium when you are doing something that you are passionate about. I am thankful that we have a school board and superintendent that are committed to supporting all of our students and believe that by becoming more inclusive, we move closer to that goal every day.”
Jackson found inspiration from his prior experiences, explaining that “as a former high school teacher and administrator, building relationships with students was an essential part of my ability to better manage some of the most difficult situations that students can find themselves in (disagreements, fights, and others).
Establishing healthy, authentic relationships with students and parents required Jackson to take a personal investment in the success and well-being of each of his students.
“Being African American, I never wanted to be perceived as only being a resource and support for African American students,” he said. “I wanted all of my students to know that I am genuinely invested in each of them. I did this by speaking with them about what mattered to them during their lunches, while walking down the hall, or a morning conversation as they entered the building.”
Most importantly, Jackson made sure to be consistent in how he supported each student. This often-included learning more about their racial and ethnic identities.
“Those relationships served as a ‘master class’ in the importance of diversity and inclusion,” Jackson said. “This approach endeared me to students across race, gender, ability, and socio-economic lines. It was these relationships that provided me purpose then and inspires me now to work to help other educators engage in cultural humility.”
Cultural humility is a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities. The goal is for educators to effectively communicate and create learning experiences in school environments that make students feel validated no matter their background.
With Jackson as DEI director, the district has introduced multiple initiatives aimed at increasing inclusiveness.
The district hired 16 Diversity and Engagement Liaisons who participate in weekly trainings and provide curriculum resources to their assigned schools, for example Black History resources in February, Women’s History resources in March and Asian Pacific Islander in May.
The district has also recruited volunteer community liaisons who assist with enrollment at the Welcome Center, promoting parent involvement and familiarizing parents with American cultural norms and social services. Pickerington Schools includes families from more than 70 countries speaking more than 58 languages.
High school students can now enroll in classes for African American history, literature and culture. Testing for gifted abilities now involves a non-verbal test, thereby identifying more gifted students amongst children for whom English is a second language.
PLSD also hosts a variety of events throughout the school year designed to showcase the district’s diversity and interact with the community. At the Night of Engagement this past December, people of various backgrounds shared their cultures through table displays and clothing, and Central’s Jazz Band and North’s Chamber Orchestra performed. The district’s principals also competed in a “Masked Singer” show. In April each year, the district hosts a CommUNITY Fair in which students and their families share their cultural traditions through visual and performing arts. This month, both North and Central presented Black History Month Programs and a Martin Luther King Day presentation was live streamed this past Tuesday.