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LOSD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee outlines ambitious goals at its first meeting

The Lake Oswego School District's new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee opened its first meeting on August 20 with a series of spirited and at times emotional introductions from the group's members.

Anushka Nair, a committee member and student at Lake Oswego High School, said that she grew up "an Indian in a place where that doesn't mean anything to anyone else."

"Since I walked into kindergarten, I've been the most diverse person in the room. I've never had a teacher that wasn't white in the entire time I've gone to school here," she said. "I've been on the verge of tears this entire time. I want to thank each of you individually for being here. This matters to me, because I walk through those doors every single day."

The first-of-its-kind committee was created last year in order to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues — the first priority in the district's strategic plan. Its creation was prompted in part by a series of racist incidents at Lake Oswego schools.

The 22 members were appointed by the Lake Oswego School Board in June, and include students, staff, teachers, parents and community members. The group will also work in concert with the district's Equity Team to develop a five-year "Equity Plan" for local schools.

SALERNO OWENS"It's so wonderful to have you all here, because you bring many different perspectives to this table," LOSD Equity Director David Salerno Owens told the committee members. "Our students come with a multitude of complexities which make them who they are. We are here to truly try to create the policies that will make a change for these students."

Salerno Owens led the Aug. 20 meeting along with School Board member Rob Wagner. The first meeting served as a chance for committee members to share their reasons for joining the committee, and get to know one another.

WAGNER"We have to be honest about what's happening, and what our district's response has been up to this point," said Wagner. "We're going to peel the Band-Aid back and talk about some of the thorny issues."

Fellow committee member and co-founder of Respond to Racism Willie Poinsette said one of her primary reasons for joining the committee was to ensure that no child would have to go through what her own child experienced in Lake Oswego's schools. She said that her son had been consistently underestimated by teachers because of his race.

POINSETTE"He was told he doesn't look like a TAG (Talented and Gifted) kid. He was told by his pre-calculus teacher that he was not interested in learning," Poinsette said. "Teachers didn't understand who he was."

Mya Gordon, a student at Lakeridge High School, said that she was never more aware of her race than when she moved to Lake Oswego.

"I was so conscious of the color of my skin, which is something that I had never felt in my entire life. When I lived in New Jersey, I didn't associate myself with the color of my skin as much," she said. "I feel like I am an outsider based on my race. I don't want anyone else to feel like they don't belong in a town. Being a kid, you feel like something is wrong with you. That's something I don't want anyone else to feel, because it sucks."

Becky Owens, an LOJ and LOHS parent as well as vice chair of the Special Services Parent Advisory Committee (SSPAC), said she was amazed by how much the experiences of students of color seem to parallel the experiences of students with special needs.

Race was a major topic of discussion at the meeting, but the committee members also talked about the need to discuss all aspects of student identity. Topics identified for future meetings included how to best serve students with special needs, how to embrace the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation and how to be inclusive of a multitude of religions and cultures.

Nair and Gordon emphasized the need to get the changes down to the classroom level.

"If you make joke that is racist, everyone laughs. That's what people are used to. That's the environment in the classroom," said Nair. "The way we've been dealing with policy on the school level is totally bungled. I feel comfortable saying that because I've lived it. My number one goal is making sure that our student body knows that it doesn't have to live the lives they are, and that things are going to change. Because right now they have no idea that things are going to change."

In addition to helping develop the Equity Plan, the committee will also examine the district's strategic plan and identify places for improvement. The specific areas to be addressed include data and best practices from peer districts; an audit of district policies through an equity lens; best practices for embedding equity into curriculum and practice; how to highlight and award community members, students or staff who are doing exceptional work in these efforts; how to provide engaging

partnerships with the community and how to assess and develop strategies for staff hiring through an equity lens.

The committee will meet once a month throughout the school year, with the next meeting set for Sep. 17 at the district office at LOHS. For more information, visit www.losdschools.org/Page /5221.

Contact Lake Oswego Review Reporter Claire Holley at 503-479-2381 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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