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DEI Expert: ‘Restorative’ Work is Fostering Healing

School board OK’s new business manager, deal with AIU

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
October 27, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

School directors and the public listen on Wednesday as Erika Kestenberg, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, addresses the McKeesport Area school board. (Adam Reinherz photo for Tube City Almanac)

A consultant working with the McKeesport Area School District said this week that school directors did the right thing by apologizing following an outburst at the last board meeting.

Erika Kestenberg, an expert on diversity, equity and inclusion who has worked with the district in the past, said Wednesday that in the wake of the September incident, a statement issued by six of the nine board members was the correct move.

At the end of a sometimes raucous board meeting on Sept. 26, a member of the audience confronted School Director James Brown over his remarks that the session had been a “sh-t show.”

Brown responded with what witnesses described as profanity and a homophobic slur.

Six members of the school board — Brown, Diane Elias, Dan Goughnour, Mindy Lundberg, Steve Kondrosky and LaToya Wright — and the district’s administration later apologized for the incident and reiterated their committment to “diversity, equity and inclusion and ensuring that everyone has a deep sense of belonging in our district.”

“We apologize that what transpired at the end of our last school board meeting, when hurtful language was used, was not aligned with our DEI vision and mission,” they wrote. “Please know that we have immediately engaged numerous stakeholders and consultants to support our action steps forward so that we can reflect, heal, learn and grow through this together. We are sorry for any and all harm this has caused and we are actively engaged in the process of restoration.”

On Wednesday, during the citizens’ comment portion of the meeting, McKeesport resident Rosie Norgren discussed the district’s response.

“A lot of people were hurt,” Norgren said. “I’ve talked to students. I’ve talked to teachers, community members. That’s really a big issue. It shouldn’t have taken five days to make a comment about that.”

Kestenberg said Wednesday that members of the school community had participated in several “restorative circles” had provided space for healing.

She encouraged new board members who will take office next year to join future efforts and build relationships.

“Our priority is always to keep our students safe,” District Superintendent Tia Wanzo said after the meeting. “Our schools have to remain a safe haven for them.”

In other business, Wanzo thanked outgoing board members Mindy Lundberg and Steven Kondrosky for their years of service.

She encouraged returning and future school directors to place students first during upcoming meetings: “We have adult things that come up, but if it’s not centered around what’s best for children we shouldn’t really be talking about it.”

The board agreed to hire Joseph Villella as business manager and board secretary, tentatively effective Oct. 26, 2023 through June 30, 2026. The three-year deal, is subject to Solicitor Gary Matta’s approval.

The district approved an agreement to obtain financial consulting services from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, with money to be donated by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation.

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com.

Originally published October 27, 2023.

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