A recently formed Omaha-based think tank commended the Omaha Public Schools for educating its staff in cultural proficiency.
But in a 13-page report, Karen Abrams, board president of the Progressive Research Institute of Nebraska, also challenged OPS to implement culturally proficient practices throughout its system and to do more than facilitate discussions about a book, including hiring more teachers who reflect their students' ethnicities.
"I want to see school buildings, principals, thinking about the activities of the school through the lens of cultural proficiency," Abrams said in an interview. "It's really a strategic-planning process to build cultural proficiency into the culture of OPS."
The district spent more than $130,000 in federal stimulus money in April to purchase 8,000 copies of the book, "The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change."
OPS officials have said the book is one aspect of the district's three-year plan "to systematically make a shift in the culture of this organization."
The book includes a worksheet for teachers to score themselves on a continuum of cultural sensitivity, ranging from "cultural destructiveness," as evidenced by genocide and ethnocide, to "cultural proficiency," depicted as the highest level of awareness.
Purchase of the book, and use of federal stimulus funds to do so, was controversial.
Abrams mailed the institute's report to the district's 12 school board members. She also briefly summarized its findings during the public comment portion of Monday night's school board meeting.
Board President Sandra Jensen told Abrams the report was "easy to read" and "comprehensive."
The institute became a 501(c)(3) organization earlier this year, designating it as a tax-exempt nonprofit, she said.
Authors of "The Cultural Proficiency Journey" contend that only those educators who acknowledge the existence of white privilege in America, that "white" is a culture in America and that race "is a definer for social and economic status" can reach proficiency. Those who score poorly on the worksheet are asked in the book what they will do "to align yourself with the values expressed."
Abrams said white privilege in Omaha and in the United States "is fact, not fiction."
The report lists national and Omaha data about children in poverty, overall poverty, unemployment and median household incomes. White children and adults fare better than black and Hispanic children and adults in every category, according to the report.
Abrams described being culturally proficient for educators as "having attitudes and beliefs that are understanding of the diverse student body, where other kids are coming from."
About 90 percent of OPS employees have received copies of the book, said Carolyn Grice, an OPS administrator in the student and community services department. Schools get the books after they complete a discussion about self-awareness and cultural proficiency, she said.
All but three schools have held the first discussion. Grice declined to name the three schools.
It's up to the building's cultural leadership team — two staff members at the school and the principal — to decide how the building will use the book, she said.
"We're trying really, really hard not to prescribe anything," Grice said. "The book is just a resource."
Employees in each building are expected to have three discussions on culture this school year.
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