By Dedra Cordle
In the wake of nationwide protests on racism and racial justice last summer, the South-Western City Schools board of education issued a directive that challenged the district to do more to address any inequalities or disparities that may exist in its buildings. Now, those directives are beginning to take shape.
At its meeting on Feb. 22, Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise presented the board with an update on a number of new initiatives that would enhance diversity, equity, and inclusivity for its students, staff, and the community at large.
According to Wise, there were four committees established that were dedicated to working on these topics for the past year, three of which were new to the district and one that was active prior to the directive.
The overarching mission of these committees, he said, was to focus on “the what and the how of creating a more accepting culture that nurtures a sense of belonging for our students while demanding high expectations for all.”
“It has been difficult work but also very rewarding,” he said.
Wise was on the district-wide work group, which was also comprised of a member of the board, district staff, several students, and other members of the community who are in leadership roles.
The district-wide work group, he said, was tasked with pouring over data to uncover if and how poverty and race correlated with underachievement in the district and how their findings compare to those same trends nationally.
“We discovered that it is not as pronounced in this district (in comparison to others),” he said, “but it still exists here and we need to do more to improve.”
The other committees were the Inclusion Institute, where educators and administrators were given ways to reflect on, establish, and reinforce equity practices among school staff that allows students to achieve to the best of their ability; the Ohio State University Task Force which provided training and support for adults on implicit and institutional bias; and the Social Emotional Learning Standards Implementation Committee. The latter was already an active committee in the district. They are currently wrapping up a district-wide survey for students and staff that will give district officials a sense of “how they feel about themselves within our organization.”
“It’s a very culture and climate focused survey,” Wise said of the Panorama survey. “The data will really give us a good sense of how our students and staff feel they fit in with our organization and in turn that will provide us with ways to meet their needs if they are not feeling fulfilled.”
While the four committees had different tasks, the one thing they had in common was the variety of ideas on how to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion within the district.
The first initiative will task each individual school to come up with goals to address disparities or inequalities within their Continuous Improvement Plan. These goals and their efforts will be monitored by those on the district-wide work group, which will now serve as an oversight committee. Staff members will also be mentored by those who were involved on the working committees through the sharing of information and resources.
Other initiatives will include the continuation of partnerships with organizations that help reduce nonacademic barriers, the addition of more reading material that feature protagonists of color or explore the experiences of people of color, and increased recruitment efforts to “better reflect our student population.”
Wise said that while the district will begin to recruit at six additional historical black colleges and universities, he does not foresee a great expanse of diversity in the teaching force anytime soon.
“To be candid, this is extremely difficult when the (local candidate) pool is so limited,” he said.
According to data from the Ohio Department of Education, the population of educators of color is disproportionately low in comparison to the state’s students of color. In the 2016-2017 school year, only 5,570 teachers of color were employed in Ohio’s district, making up only 5 percent of the teaching staff. Those numbers are even lower in regard to people of color enrolled in teacher preparation programs, with non-white people compromising of only 1,777 enrolled in 2017.
Wise said the diversity, equity and inclusion initiative implementation is ongoing and not all initiatives may come to fruition. However, he said he believes the district is doing the right thing by shaping new goals to create a stronger and more inclusive learning environment.
“Even if we never achieve our goals, we think that it is important to make our goals aspirational and bold as we strive to make a difference.”