Reports of racist teasing on an elementary school playground prompted Birmingham Public Schools to swiftly form a Diversity Committee and create a new director of character education position to address the issue.
Dan Nerad, superintendent of the Michigan school district, recently announced Beverly Elementary School Principal Jamii Hitchcock will serve as the district’s first director of character education, diversity, and equity, Hometown Life reports.
The move follows the formation of a Diversity Committee to address racist teasing on the playground at Pierce Elementary School. That committee started meetings in November.
Hitchcock, who has a doctor of philosophy degree from Oakland University, will work to ensure students develop “quality character traits and continually excel in a learning environment that is engaging, global and free of achievement gaps,” according to the job description.
Hitchcock “brings to the position broad experience in school administration and extensive professional development in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Nerad told Hometown Life. “Dr. Hitchcock is also very committed to our district’s work in character education.”
On a day-to-day basis, Hitchcock will work with principals to analyze data and apply it to school improvement plans, work with the Character Education Committee to develop character education opportunities, and create plans to address the district’s achievement gap and diversity issues. She’s also responsible for presentations on the district’s efforts, and coordination with outside groups like the Birmingham African American Family Network, the Student Achievement Network, and Character.org.
The new position comes during an important cultural moment at the school and nation that centers on character, and it could fill a critical need.
University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter diagnosed the issue in The Death of Character.
“When one couples a steady evacuation of cultural [taken-for-granted assumptions and commitments] with the weakening of key socializing institutions, one has, in effect, undermined the social and cultural conditions necessary for the cultivation of good character,” Hunter wrote.
Hitchcock certainly faces a significant challenge—to strengthen the Birmingham schools, and the families that rely on them, through the crucial role of forming character.
And she’s excited to get started.
“This new opportunity will allow me to continue to work with staff, students and families in a broader capacity," she wrote in an announcement to Beverly Elementary parents.
Hitchcock and others charged with the responsibility of character education and equity—whether in the classroom or in an office—are building relationships at the core of their work, and many would likely benefit from education professor Kathryn Roe's wise counsel from her experiences as a teacher at a juvenile detention facility and later as a principal.