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South Hills

West Jefferson Hills school board approves cultural competency consultuant

| Thursday, March 29, 2018, 12:39 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson High School in the West Jefferson Hills School District.
Thomas Jefferson High School in the West Jefferson Hills School District.

A consultant will work with the West Jefferson Hills School District to build cultural competency — at a cost not to exceed $2,000 — despite some resident concerns that the role might not be needed.

Board members on March 27 unanimously approved an agreement with Donald Sheffield, president of TAME, Inc. (or, Techniques Assisting Motivation and Excellence), to serve as consultant.

The motion approved by the board set a cap on services provided at $2,000.

That was different from the motion on the board's work session agenda, which stated Sheffield would work at a cost not to exceed $2,000 a day. However, board President Brian Fernandes said that was Sheffield's rate to the district and did not mean the district would spend that.

Superintendent Michael Ghilani told board members at their work session on March 20 that Sheffield would be working mostly half days or “one hour meetings here or there,” but said he did not have a total number of hours the consultant would be working.

Sheffield, whose resume includes serving as the former director of diversity outreach at Pennsylvania State University and former administrative assistant to Joe Paterno, has worked with numerous school districts across the region including Quaker Valley, South Fayette and Penn Hills.

In West Jefferson Hills, he will work with the yet-to-be-formed multicultural student union at Thomas Jefferson High School, as well as work with staff and administrators to create cultural competence, Ghilani said at the work session.

At that meeting, Ghilani told board members that the purpose of the consultant is to equip and prepare students, “to work with people from different cultures and different societies and acknowledge one another's similarities and differences.”

“We all know that West Jefferson Hills does not represent the rest of the world,” he told board members, after the meeting referencing that “TJ is a bubble” and cultural competency needs to be taught to prepare students for the outside world.

Two residents spoke at the March 27 board meeting, questioning the need for the consultant and seeking more details.

“Many of us move here to be in a bubble,” said resident Tom Risley, adding that the money spent on the consultant could be better spent elsewhere.

Resident Patti Duda questioned where the district got its information from that students are not culturally prepared when they leave the district and asked for more details before the board approved the consultant.

She questioned what “incidents” had occurred in the district, which Ghilani had referred to during the work session as a need for hiring the consultant, but did not publicly elaborate on.

Ghilani did not publicly answer their questions or discuss the matter at the meeting, but told parents who sought answers after the meeting that he would meet with them privately in another room.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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