By Linda Dillman
What does it take to change the narrative of equity, diversity and inclusion in Canal Winchester Local Schools and the community at large?
There is no singular magical solution, but the district is seeking answers.
“Back in June, I sent out a letter to our community stating we must do a better job in listening, educating and becoming more aware of issues of racism and cultural proficiency,” said Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent James Sotlar prior to the start of an Oct. 21 video discussion. “I said I was committed to working with students, staff and the community to make a positive change in our school district. While I know there is no simple answer, the sooner we start the conversation, the quicker change will start to occur.”
Resident Leveland Taylor feels Canal Winchester needs to go forward and move on from protesting and ask itself if it is a community that embraces diversity or a community that lives in fear. He said they must have the mindset to educate, tell the truth and, in moving forward, open conversations on race.
“I have been in the district for 18 years,” said fellow citizen speaker Vangela Barnes. “If I could envision equality in our school district, there would be an equal division of staff, students would be achieving at the same level and we wouldn’t have what I call the One Percent. Coaches would have more people of color on the coaching staff. Our kids would be able to see there are people just like them that are in these positions.”
Buford Payne said he was only the second African-American male staffer when he was hired as an intervention specialist at the middle school 19 years ago. He has also served as a coach, but said his experience as an educator has not been easy.
“Teaching at Canal Winchester has changed quite a bit,” said Payne, who said while the demographics of the community has changed as well, the demographics of the staff has not. “I think changes in the school system start with the community.”
Resident Terra Smith wants to see the district take a small, but meaningful step by changing the school mascot and team name to something other than the Indians, which she called a lightning rod issue for the community.
“We need to ask ourselves whose comfort are we protecting,” said Smith, “when we hang onto something that symbolizes racism and white supremacy just because that is the way it’s always been done?”
Parent Jim Sabin said he was not comfortable purchasing clothing for his child embellished with the Canal Winchester mascot and pointed out professional sports teams have or are considering changing their mascots from ones based on Native-American iconography.
“I believe the district should quit using the Indians nickname and consider changing the name of Indian Trail Elementary School,” said Sabin. “I won’t allow that imagery to be institutionalized in my house or institutionalized in his school. I really hope these changes can be made and made all the way. Incremental ways just draw it all out in a painful process. If people are going to be upset, I hope it’s because the district is going to do the right thing and stand behind it with pride.”
Smith also discussed reassessing how the district works with disabled students and their families to obtain what they are entitled to by federal law. She said current systems in the school district should be examined to determine if they are set up to maximize the experienced of the disabled student or the district’s cost savings.
Canal Winchester Board of Education member Mike Yonnotti said he was not too old to learn from the discussion, which was moderated by Amanda Conley, and said society needs to become non-adversarial.
“We have to meet in the middle and pull the wagon in the same direction,” said Yonnotti. “I want to see us find a way to re-think our habits…a self-sustaining growth for all of us.”
Conley—who is helping Canal Winchester Schools develop an equity, diversity and inclusion initiative—said discussions will continue and guide future actions as the district engages in a season of gathering information from the community, staff, etc.