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Board praises consultant’s efforts to amplify voices, build cooperation
McKeesport Area School District has extended the role of a consultant who has been working with students, parents and teachers to address problems such as absenteeism, and make sure everyone’s voices are heard.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the MASD school board voted to continue a collaboration with Erika Gold Kestenberg, a diversity, inclusion, equity and justice consultant.
Kestenberg, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh, has been working in the district since December 2021, establishing stakeholder committees and holding student-centered listening sessions.
Funding for her position is being provided by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds as well as the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation.
Board members signaled support for continuing MASD’s relationship with Kestenberg after hearing about the consultant’s steps toward creating an inclusion- and equity-friendly environment in the district.
“Really, that’s what we're all doing here,” Kestenberg said. “It’s all for the kids. And when you listen to what the kids’ stories are, what they're saying they want and need in real time, then we get to build everything around that.”
Per the board’s vote, the cost of the partnership may not exceed $6,000 per month.
Kestenberg has spent more than 25 years working in education. Prior to partnering with MASD, Kestenberg collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Kestenberg told the board that through the creation of school-based teams, committee members worked with school leaders on issues, including truancy.
“We understand that attendance is one of the challenges that you really want to work on. And so we started to establish some conversations around that, and we’re going to build on that into the future,” she said.
Similarly, Kestenberg said she’s looking forward to “hitting the ground running” next August by providing school leaders with professional development opportunities.
The goal, she said, was and will be to “ensure that all of our kids and staff with families are heard, seen and considered — that’s the inclusion part — and also understanding that we each have different needs to thrive, that's the equity piece.”
Those efforts will be followed by additional professional development sessions that will occur “twice in each school this coming year, so that we can establish some fundamental learning that we’re all doing together, some common language and understandings, as we're building this out together,” she said.
School Board President Mindy Lundberg praised Kesternberg’s past performance and suggested that any board members interested in learning more about diversity, inclusion and equity to join fellow board members Diane Elias and LaToya Wright-Brown at monthly workshops on community relations and cultural diversity.
“I would definitely encourage any of us to take a look at those schedules and be part of that work,” Lundberg said.
Adam Reinherz is a Pittsburgh-based journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published June 23, 2022.