As a student and educator, Cherrissa Gibson spent years working to advance herself in predominantly white settings, and understands the challenges often faced by minorities.
Now, she’s using those personal experiences as well as professional background leading cultural proficiency development at the college level to ensure all students of the Pennsbury School District have a voice and sense of belonging.
During a meeting held on July 16, the Pennsbury board of school directors appointed Gibson, Ed.D., to be the district’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Education. Gibson immediately shifted from her previous role as Assistant Principal at Pennsbury High School, which she held since 2013, to serve in this newly created position.
“I’m excited to see that the district is making a commitment to move a focus to equity for all students,” Gibson said. “I’m very excited for that, and that the board and the cabinet-level administrators are focused on this. On a personal level, it’s something that I’m very passionate about. I’m an advocate for supporting all students and meeting them where they are.”
Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula said Gibson impressed the interview team with her experience and well-conceived entry plan.
“Their comments afterward included observations about Dr. Gibson’s clear passion for pursuing and supporting equity and diversity in Pennsbury, her non-judgmental approachability, her depth and breadth of knowledge, and her grasp of the data behind this important work,” he said. “As one committee member put it, Dr. Gibson takes a scholarly approach to the work, yet is approachable.”
The Director of Equity, Diversity, and Education is responsible for coordinating and guiding all efforts to define, understand, assess, foster and cultivate equity among the district’s students, faculty and staff. The position serves to enhance educational programs to promote equity as an essential element of the district, and also further develops programs, services and initiatives designed to ensure the recruitment and successful retention of faculty and staff.
“The role will be to basically take an assessment, or data, approach to really see where we are across our system and existing practices. So, looking at achievement gap-type data, but also looking at course enrollments and discipline practices, curriculum practices. Really just examining all parts of an existing education system to see where disparities lie, and if there are patterns in those disparities based on race, gender, economic status and so on,” said Gibson. “We’re looking to provide professional development and build capacity of the various teachers and leaders in the different departments to try and close the gaps in those areas.”
Gibson believes her career thus far will help her succeed in this role.
“I worked across a couple different school districts in my career, different locales. So, just seeing different district lenses. I’ve done some professional development for teachers, students, some college-level professional development around cultural proficiency. It’s something I’ve focused my learning on. My dissertation I did recently was focused on culturally responsible practices, social-emotional learning, and how identity really plays into serving the foundation for attaching those academic experiences,” she said.
For the last two years at Pennsbury High School West, Gibson served as Acting Principal for two consecutive spring semesters. She came to Pennsbury in 2013 from the Bristol Borough School District, where she served as an Assistant Principal at Bristol Borough High School. Prior to that position, Gibson was the Dean of Students at Snyder-Girotti Elementary/Middle School, also in Bristol Borough.
Additionally, Gibson served as head girls basketball coach for Bristol Borough School District and head women’s basketball coach for Bucks County Community College, and was inducted into the Bensalem High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. She recently earned her doctorate in K-12 School Leadership from Gwynedd Mercy University, with a dissertation focused on “Social-Emotional Learning Through a Cultural Lens.”
As the upcoming academic year draws nearer, Gibson’s early goals are to elevate student voices and make sure there’s a lot of stakeholder engagement.
“One of the things I recommended in my entry plan was the development of some sort of collaborative equity-focused work group. Certainly, an assessment needs to take place first, some sort of work group that involves students, teachers, community members and so forth, so that we’re working cooperatively to make sure that we’re really sharing and soliciting all voices, and not only listening to the voices who are traditionally in the room or at the table.”
According to Gibson, the district showed courage and leadership by creating this position to tackle such a tough issue.
“It’s excitement and pride with which I view the establishment of this position,” she said. “I want to bring students an understanding and sense of belonging that sometimes we don’t attend to for students who come from non-dominant groups.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com