Last modified: Tuesday, July 08, 2014
AMHERST — As another apparent racial incident in the public schools comes to light, town and school officials are hiring a part-time liaison whose role will be to assist in building greater equity and inclusiveness in the community.

Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board Monday that he and Superintendent Maria Geryk are jointly launching an initiative known as Amherst Together.

The first step, he said, will be to hire a liaison who will work with town and school leaders, residents, businesses and community groups to articulate a vision for equity, diversity and civility.

“I know at different points during the past year that the Select Board has agreed with the notion that this is a community-wide conversation,” Musante said.

The most recent incident reported was a racially charged fight involving four middle school students. Previously, a white high school student was at the center of a racial dispute when he posted a Facebook claim that he was carrying a gun to school for protection.

In addition, high school teacher Carolyn Gardner, who is black, was repeatedly targeted by racist graffiti and other hostile incidents throughout the school year.

Musante said that by many accounts, it was a difficult year in the schools and by extension in the community.

Musante said he talked with Geryk about action steps for community building. They settled on the concept of sharing expenses for hiring a professional liaison. He didn’t put a price tag on hiring this person or how the costs would fit into the budget.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of this,” Musante said.

Among the work for this liaison may include professional development for school and municipal staff and assisting in co-sponsoring community events that bring people of various racial and ethnic groups together.

There will also be opportunities for community collaboration between school and town leaders, residents and businesses.