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District 153 steering committee looking at diversity approaches

A steering committee in Homewood District 153 is working to prioritize initiatives that will help set goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and bring those goals to fruition over the next several years.

DEI has come to the forefront the past several years. It is intended to help administrators and staff recruit, hire, advance and set strategic goals for diversity, equity and inclusion. Nikki Kerr is the district’s DEI coordinator helping the committee set goals.

Kerr said the committee surveyed faculty and District 153 families for their input on DEI and “had a good response.” The answers helped formulate four goals. The broader community will be asked for comments in the future, she said.

“It’s one thing to talk about (DEI), but we also need to put in place specific things that we’re going to do and timelines by which we’ll be done,” said District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister. He calls this “Year Zero” because it’s a period for discussion and goal setting. He expects the committee will work on a three-year timeline.

The steering committee of between 20 and 25 people represent faculty and staff at each of the district’s schools – Willow, Churchill and James Hart. Within the steering committee are four subcommittees working on these specific goals:

  1. Develop and use an equity lens when determining policies, programs, practices and decision-making to obtain more equitable outcomes.
  2. Recruit and retain a workforce that is more representative of the student body, as well as diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, geographic origin, age, religion, sexual orientation and physical or mental ability.
  3. Create an inclusive and equitable campus climate; includes culturally responsive teaching and restorative practices.
  4. Implement and support inclusive teaching and representation in the curriculum.

McAlister said all administrators were trained during eight-hour sessions over a week’s time in summer 2021.

“The biggest thing, most immediate for us, is staff development – coming up with some type of staff development program beyond our (administrative) group,” he said. “I think everyone, to a person, felt very favorable by that. We emerged with a lot more compassion and empathy and we want others to have that experience as well.”

“The other thing, of course, of immediate concern is the makeup and hiring of our staff. Our district is similar to many in that we are 80 to 85% white adults and 60% black students, another 15% Hispanic,” McAlister explained. “It’s important that we’re cognizant of the students we work with.”

He said the work administrators undertook last summer “we want that to grow and extend out to all our faculty.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that the events of several summers ago didn’t bring the issues to the forefront; not only for schools, but businesses and society in general,” McAlister said. “I think the important thing is it’s not just letters. We’re doing diversity, equity and inclusion but what are we doing? What’s the mete of the work?

“To me, the mete of the work is when we look at the people we hire; are we making inroads in diversifying our staff. That’s important. Are we putting in place a plan for all of our staff to be trained in this work that they have an awareness that if you’re going to do the work in this district this is important, this is who we are.”

McAlister said when he became superintendent in 2021, he picked up the DEI baton from retired Superintendent Dale Mitchell who had been working on inclusion for many years. Mitchell was gearing up for a DEI committee when COVID-19 hit and schools shifted their focus to remote learning.

Under Mitchell, about a decade ago several staff members attended sessions in California hosted by the SEED Project. SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) focuses on “leaders who guide their peers in conversational communities to drive personal, institutional and society changes toward social justice.”

Various conversations and training sessions were held for staff and administrators.

McAlister said the SEED Project is one option being considered as part of staff training.

The superintendent applauds staff for making every effort to give students a wide view through reading materials that reflect diversity or are written by authors from various backgrounds. And curriculum materials are including a fair representation of all students.

“I think our teachers do a great job at finding diverse authors, but I’m not naïve enough to say we’ve done as much as we can,” he added.

“For us the best is yet to come,” McAlister stressed. “I think we have a great opportunity in front of us. I think our staff, a great majority of our staff, is interested in doing this work. For those that aren’t – this is what our community believes in and it’s important to us in the district.”

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