Committee updates board on equity focus areas

Committee updates board on equity focus areas
Posted on 12/18/2020
Three students and three parents spoke to the School Board this week, sharing about the work that two committees have done to begin changing the Tahoma School District to make it a more equitable, welcoming and safe place for all students and staff.

“We want student voices to be heard,” THS junior Aliaya Nesru said, asking that the district incorporate student experiences and opinion in each decision that affects students, to help encourage lasting change through collaboration.

The six representatives are part of a group of 50 students, parents, community members and staff who have been working together, along with Tahoma Director of Equity Emilie Hard, to lead the way toward the equity goals identified by the School Board and Superintendent Mike Hanson.

“This isn’t a project,” Hanson said, thanking the committee at the end of the presentation. “This is a pathway that you get on and don’t get off.”

The representatives of the larger committee began with a discussion about the distinction between equity and equality. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives -- and, it only works if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives, because needs vary by individual, they explained.

“Equality and equity doesn’t mean that we’re taking anything away from anyone,” parent and committee member Alicia Busch said. “It’s making sure everyone has what they need.”

In addition to student voice, which Nesru spoke to, the committee’s other five main areas of focus will be:

*Staffing: Parent Joe Brazier emphasized that increasing equitable and inclusive practices in hiring should include not only recruiting and retention of diverse employees, but also a matter of providing cultural support.

*School culture and climate: Junior Hadley Johnson said that while she thinks Tahoma has taken positive steps, there is room for improvement, such as increasing clubs that celebrate diversity, creating zero tolerance for slurs and promoting other efforts that will support student and staff mental health.

*Family engagement: Busch said that the committee plans to increase opportunities for meaningful engagement, beginning with a virtual event planned for February.

*Curriculum and instruction: The district’s goal is to provide curricula that include diverse perspectives and counter narratives, and uses culturally responsive instruction to support each student. Sophomore Tanveer Grewal shared this quote from John Lewis: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

*Professional development: Brazier emphasized that the key to true change in many of these areas will depend upon district staff members. For example, while it may be a daunting task to find a fully non-biased curriculum, teachers and staff can acknowledge any bias and address it.

Professional development began this summer. Dr. Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting, is supporting staff learning in cultural competency through training in awareness, knowledge and skills. District administrators and leaders, each building staff and the School Board have participated in an initial virtual training with Hollins about diversity, our own racial identities, uncovering biases and stereotypes. Sessions with some classified staff are planned for later this year.

Hanson shared with the board and the community that Tahoma is also participating in two collaborative groups about equity: one includes 18 districts from the state of Washington, sharing information and ideas, and the second includes districts from five states that will be discussing best practices around equity and social-emotional learning.

On Dec. 8, the School Board members participated in an initial equity session with Hollins. She told the board members and community members in attendance that the work the district is beginning starts with each individual in our community. It’s something we all need to participate in because it takes everyone working together to dismantle systems of racism, she added.

There are four bodies of work to engage in: awareness, knowledge, skills, and action/advocacy.

Hollins talked with the board members about listening for understanding, and asking someone who is sharing to explain further. It’s also important not to try to “fix” what someone is sharing about, but rather to offer support or simply thank them for sharing. Another key objective is to create space for different voices, to take risks by engaging in conversation, and to expect and accept non-closure. “No matter how much you lean in, the conversation is often going to end up feeling unresolved,” Hollins said.

Conversations about race and equity are not comfortable, but we (our society -- our community) need to have them. “Is my comfort more important than someone else’s pain?” she asked. Board members, staff members and community members who attended the meeting had discussions in breakout rooms as part of the session.

“We practice, and when we practice, we get better,” Hollins said. “Whenever I feel the most discomfort, that’s when I lean in.”

The district has an equity page available here, and we will continue to share updates about the committee’s work, the professional development, curriculum review and other areas of focus in equity.
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