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Diverse groups welcome new superintendent

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OKC Schools superintendent Robert Neu attended a diversity fair last week that highlighted the many cultures that makeup the district. - BEN FELDER
  • Ben Felder
  • OKC Schools superintendent Robert Neu attended a diversity fair last week that highlighted the many cultures that makeup the district.

Robert Neu hopes to learn Spanish.

It’s not just a good career move for the new superintendents of a school system where nearly half of all students are Hispanic. But it would also be Neu taking his own advice to the students of the Oklahoma Public School District.

“Our kids have got to understand diversity and they have to be able to speak multiple languages,” Neu said. “That will be the key to them becoming a higher level thinker and that problem solver that we need in our next generation.”

Neu was invited to a local diversity festival last week featuring several local organizations that work with parents and students of the district who have a background from another country. The event was a chance for the district’s minority communities to welcome Neu to the district, but OKC’s new superintendent also took it has as an opportunity to announce his commitment to embracing the different cultures that call the school district home.

Over the past 20 years, OKC’s Hispanic student population has grown from around 3,000 to 18,000, with students coming from 14 different Spanish-speaking nations. Eighteen of the district’s 54 elementary schools have Hispanic enrollments of at least 70 percent and that number is expected to grow in the coming years.

While Neu says a culturally diverse district presents an opportunity, there are also challenges. Even though many of the district’s Hispanic students speak English, some parents do not.

“We teach them how to engage their children and be more involved and be more open to asking questions of the teachers,” said Deisy Escalera, a volunteer with a group that works with Spanish-speaking parents in the district. “We do [the meetings] in Spanish where we teach them about the educational system. We teach them how they can be involved and how they can help their children grow in Oklahoma City Public Schools.”
Escalera was at last week’s diversity event and said Neu’s presence meant a lot to many of the parents and volunteers.

“It helps that [Neu] understands that we are from different backgrounds and that he values us being bilingual,” Escalera said. “People think we are just from Mexico and that’s not the case. We have different countries and it's beautiful for them to come together like this.”

With a Spanish interpreter by his side, Neu addressed the crowd and said he was committed to making the district a more inclusive place and wanted to see students of all backgrounds learning about other cultures and languages.

“Our cultural diversity, if embraced, if celebrated, if utilized, it will help us, it will enrich us, it will bind us together,” Neu said. “But also it will help us solve problems in unique ways that we’ve never thought of before."

Print headline: Student of diversity: A district’s diverse communities welcome a new superintendent.

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