Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee presents equity plan
The Lake Oswego School District's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee presented its first draft of a new equity plan at the April 22 school board meeting.
The committee has been guided by David Salerno Owens, the LOSD's director of equity and strategic initiatives, and has been meeting monthly since August 2018 to discuss how to improve district experiences for people of color, those with disabilities and other minority groups in Lake Oswego.
The committee was created to examine the district's strategic plan and identify places for improvement. Members have been looking at data and best practices from peer districts, auditing district policies through an equity lens and looking for ways to embed equity into curriculum and practice.
In November 2018, the DEI committee self-divided into subcommittees to best utilize professional skills; many members are established figures in their fields, including mental health, social work, education and business. One of those subcommittees, led by Charu Nair, was responsible for writing the proposed equity policy.
Salerno Owens said that having a plan in place is a huge step toward increasing equity within the district. "We are guided by policy as a school district. It's so important to have the foundation there for us, so in the future we can go back to our policy and see that this is what we believe in and what we need to do for our students," Salerno Owens said. "It allows us to move forward with taking the steps necessary to increase our community's awareness to the importance of diversity and equity."
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Schiele said that the district is extremely grateful for the work of the DEI committee. "(They have) demonstrated true leadership by engaging in this critically important work and we are extremely proud of their efforts in recommending a LOSD Equity Policy. The policy will help guide our district in achieving an equitable educational environment for each and every LOSD student," Schiele said.
At the school board meeting, Salerno Owens said that the DEI committee used recommendations for equity plans provided by the Oregon School Board Association, but adjusted them to best suit the LOSD. "The committee went through and really wanted to fine tune the language for our district," Salerno Owens said. "It took a lot of collaboration, a lot of effort, a lot of feedback on what we want this policy to look like. I think we did a good job of incorporating everyone's voice."
There are many topics outlined in the proposed equity plan, including hiring practices, curriculum and school environment.
The plan reads: "The district shall actively recruit, employ, support, and retain a workforce of ethnic/racial, gender and linguistic diversity with the goal to have the teacher and administrative workforce reflect the diversity of the student body. In an effort to recruit and retain, the district will support culturally responsive and relevant administrative, instructional and support personnel."
On increasing equity in the curriculum, the DEI committee advised: "The district shall provide materials and assessments that reflect the diversity of students and staff and are geared toward the understanding and appreciation of culture, class, language, ethnicity, poverty, ability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other differences that contribute to the uniqueness of each student and staff member."
The plan also sets a goal of increasing multiple pathways to academic success. "The district shall provide multiple pathways to success in order to meet the needs of the diverse student body and shall actively encourage, support and expect high academic achievement for each student," it reads.
The school board was thrilled to hear the first reading of the equity plan. "I'm honestly blown away by this," said board member John Wallin. "I think this is such an amazing moment in our district, that we've gotten to this."
Wallin was reminded of an incident last year in which students at Lake Oswego Middle School passed a note containing a racial slur to an African American classmate. Following that event, more people began to come forward about other racist experiences in the district.
"A little bit more than a year ago I can remember being in a meeting in LOJ, when we had a racist incident there. Parents were sharing stories, people were sharing stories that we had heard, and that was really a low point for me in this district, just to hear what was going on," Wallin said. "That galvanized for me how important this was."
Student school board representatives also expressed their appreciation to the DEI committee. "I think every single one of your points for how to achieve this policy is incredibly helpful, and I really appreciate you outlining it so thoroughly," student representative Anna Marie Guenther said.
School board chair Bob Barman thanked the DEI committee for their work, but asked for an addition to the policy concerning equity in school boundaries. "I'm not saying change (the boundaries) now, but when they are changed, we can never allow that to happen again intentionally," said Barman, referring to a school board decision in the 1980s that pushed low income families into attending River Grove elementary. "They put the low income kids into River Grove, moved them as much into River Grove as they could," he said. "To not have something like that addressed when we've had a history of that ... I'd certainly like you to consider it."
The DEI committee will now work with the school board to finalize the equity plan. According to Salerno Owens, the plan could be voted on as soon as the next school board meeting. It would go into effect as soon as it is passed by the board.