Last spring, Darby was the center of a controversy when then football coach Jeff Snavely posted a comment on social media that led to an uproar regarding how he thought a situation out of this area should be handled. From that incident, a new project has happened. The Darby Community Conversations held their first conversation on Thursday, August 13, in the park in Darby.
Snavely was reprimanded by the Darby School Board, given a year’s suspension from coaching, and charged with helping with the Community Conversations. The purpose of these conversations was, and is, to improve the culture and climate in the community and the school. Snavely resigned from coaching in June but the ball was already rolling for the conversations.
The core committee is made up of Christina Harrell and Rosemary Griffin from the school board. In addition, there are a couple of teachers – Sara Nelson and Caroline Ehmann – from the school, a mother and daughter – Stacie and Annie Rennaker – from the community and community members Cheryl Whitney and Trent Atkins.
The conversation on Thursday night was facilitated by Roch Turner. Turner was raised in Hamilton. He currently conducts team research on cross-cultural competencies in international education and independent research on educational reform and is a professor at the University of Montana.
About 34 people attended the discussion, according to Harrell, including several people from Trapper Creek Job Corps. “It wasn’t what I expected, but it was also what I was expecting,” she said.
Harrell went on to say she thought people do not want to be rude and they are trying to be more conscious of what they say. She and Griffin both felt this would lead to more discussions about not only race but social inequities and perhaps help find solutions for some of these problems.
One of the first items the group dealt with was a survey to see what the rest of the group felt was important. This information will be used to develop the topic for the next three conversations. Harrell said the initial group will meet in the next week and decide how to proceed with these ideas.
Griffin, who has been beside her family in athletics for over 50 years, said that dealing with the situation with Snavely was one of the hardest things she’s ever done. “As teachers and educators, we know how important extra curricular activities like band and athletics are to kids. We need to make sure they are getting the right message.”
“We each have our own circle,” said Harrell. “We hope to reach out to many people outside that circle to see what is important to them.”
One of the sessions they hope to have is one with Native Americans, possibly someone from the Salish-Kootenai Confederated Tribes. Harrell said here we are in their native lands and a lot of people don’t really understand what that means and the Native culture.
Even though the conversations started as a means to examine racial cultural issues at Darby High School, and there are a lot of educators on the panel, this is not a school function. Both Griffin and Harrell stress that anyone is welcome to join in. In fact, at last Thursday’s meeting, a few people walked by, saw what was going on and came in and sat and listened.
The next Community Conversation will be October 15. The committee will decide next week what the topic will be. Of course, as Harrell pointed out, when the actual conversation takes place, tangents are bound to happen and they may finish up on an entirely different topic.
Griffin concluded by stating, “Our goal is to promote knowledge and understanding of racial and social inequalities for our community and beyond.”