The Vigo County School Board on Monday voted to create a civility, diversity and international residency department, and it also plans to hire someone to serve as its director.

The board had to vote to amend the agenda to act on the measure, which was not on the regular agenda.

The topic is one that was discussed at a board public work session just prior to the regular board meeting Monday. The board has been having public work sessions as it develops a district strategic plan.

During the public work session, the district provided data related to hiring practices as well as student suspensions/expulsions that show “there is room for improvement when we are talking about diversity, inclusion and civility,” said VCSC Superintendent Rob Haworth. “The board, much to my surprise, wanted to pull this out of the strategic plan and accelerate the development of this department.”

Among the goals:

• Establish benchmarks as far as employment, graduation, expulsion, suspensions, alternative placement.

• Professional development for all staff in the areas of civility, diversity and inclusion.

• Establish an international student residency program, where families or sending countries would pay tuition. It would be a source of revenue for the district.

After the meeting, Jackie Lower, board president, said there was quite a bit of discussion at the public work session and the board “wanted to follow through with that.”

Among the issues of concern is that diversity of staff is not proportional to diversity of students, Lower said. The board wants to see improvement so that diversity among staff better reflects the diversity of the VCSC student body.

“We have to work harder at that,” she said. “We haven’t had much success in doing that.”

She added that local colleges who train future teachers haven’t had much success either. In one approach, the school district hopes to encourage more of its students to go into teaching, Lower said.

In past community meetings, the public has said these are issues it wants addressed, Lower said.

Another component is the international residency program, which would be a tuition-based program that would produce revenue for the district “and offset the cost of adding this department,” according to information provided to the board.

Haworth likened it to “a boarding school that you might see in a private institution.”

Kokomo High School has had such a program since 2012, he said. “It has run a very effective international residency exchange program.” He said it has served about 250 students from 20 countries.

Vigo County schools will be looking at that model, he said. “We believe it will be a financial gain for us but a cultural win for our entire community.”

Under that model, families or the sending country would pay the costs, which he estimated at somewhere around $20,000 to $25,000.

It would not look like a typical foreign exchange program, he said. These would be students on F-1 visas; an F1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those wishing to study in the U.S.

He believes that by the board taking action Monday, board members hope to have the international residency program in place for next year. Many details need to be worked out, officials say.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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