Parents call on district to hire diversity officer, recruit more diverse staff

Anisha+Jackson+speaks+during+the+public+comments+section+of+the+board+of+education+meeting+Feb.+11.
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Parents call on district to hire diversity officer, recruit more diverse staff

Anisha Jackson speaks during the public comments section of the board of education meeting Feb. 11.

Anisha Jackson speaks during the public comments section of the board of education meeting Feb. 11.

Grace Altenhofen

Anisha Jackson speaks during the public comments section of the board of education meeting Feb. 11.

Grace Altenhofen

Grace Altenhofen

Anisha Jackson speaks during the public comments section of the board of education meeting Feb. 11.

Grace Altenhofen, Editor-in-Chief

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Six parents spoke during the public comments section of the Feb. 11 SMSD Board of Education meeting to advocate for diversity training within the district.

These speakers all belong to a diversity and inclusion committee, which began at SM East but now represents parents across the district.

“We came to represent district-wide concerns because people kept coming to one of our members,” member Debbie Williams said. “She continued to hear stories, so we realized that the issues that were happening at Shawnee Mission East was just a small bit of what was happening district-wide. It’s a district-wide concern.”

According to Anisha Jackson, parent of an SM West student, her concerns first arose because of a lack of district response to changing demographics.

“The district has been changing demographic-wise,” Jackson said. “You have a population change, you have additional needs. You have ELL students, you’ve got students with disabilities, so when those demographics start to change you need to accommodate for that change.”

Jackson feels that SMSD is lagging behind other districts in their response to growing diversity.

“Essentially with the changing demographics, the district hasn’t caught up with that,” Jackson said. “Other districts are doing that and have been over the past couple years by implementing diversity inclusion officers or diversity inclusion strategies within their core structure. It doesn’t just affect submarginal groups, it affects everyone.”

In addition to speaking at the board meeting, the diversity and inclusion committee authored a letter to the district highlighting some of their concerns and making requests for change. The ultimate goal for the group is to have the district take over their work.

“It’s our goal to put ourselves out of business by having them do an incredible job,” Williams said. “And then parents don’t have to step up and dictate what’s needed.”

In the letter, which has gained over 300 signatures from teachers, students and community members, the group calls on SMSD to hire a professional diversity officer.

“A diversity and inclusion officer’s job is to oversee all things diversity and inclusion,” Jackson said. “From creating a strategic plan, to working with all individuals responsible for success of students, to identifying diversity and inclusion issues like the achievement gap, like the disparity among students who are getting in trouble.”

Another goal is to encourage the district to hire more minority teachers and staff.

“To me, you can start by setting a goal in the district of ‘okay, we plan to hire x amount of diverse teachers by 2020’ or whatever,” Jackson said. “And then you actively seek out diverse folks who fit in those categories.”

Though the parents did not have time to cover it during their speeches before the board, they hope to also address the issue of discipline disparities between racial groups.

“It plays into the diversity inclusion and them identifying discipline disparities,” Jackson said. “We all have heard the stories, I mean we had issues, we see what happens as a result of discipline. The numbers are high for submarginal groups of students who are being disciplined and nothing is being done about it. And that’s a problem. To kick a kid out of class for something they did not do and then other students do the same thing in the school that are not a submarginal group, that’s a huge disparity. And that’s a huge disparity.”

The parents have drafted a letter to the board of education, which can be read in its entirety below. District patrons are also encouraged to sign onto the letter.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfC5mPx7N4udHSq_mzxT4RZRkUXg4h17esOBtn1c1H-yaligA/viewform

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