District 7 officials give Diversity, Equity, Inclusion progress to school board

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EDWARDSVILLE — A presentation Monday updated the board of education about district 7’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) progress.

Director of Curriculum and Inclusion Tara Fox and Director of Human Resources and Human Services Cornelia Smith, who has been named as the district’s first director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Student Services, effective July 1, delivered the remarks about DEI’s progress.

“In the areas of human resources and student services, we have expanded our recruitment efforts,” Smith said.

“Although we did the virtual job fairs, that in itself was a different experience,” she said. “We attended universities with higher (percentages) of African American students. We also hope to participate in future job fairs in-person, hopefully sooner than later.”

She said the district received a $600 Healing Illinois Library Resource grant through the Edwardsville Community Foundation. The funds will be used specifically to support work around racial healing, including book studies offered to staff for professional development.

“Of course, the pandemic uncovered inequities in our community like we’ve never seen before,” Smith said. “And we responded and developed solutions with parent input in many cases.”

She cited families who had no electronic devices at home to allow their children to virtually participate in school.

“Some families just had cell phones, and that’s what they were trying to use,” Smith explained. “Our technology department really stepped up and responded by providing devices to those families, and helped many parents troubleshoot problems.”

She praised the community’s outreach last year, too.

“We’ve had churches, nonprofits, businesses big and small, and private citizens say, ‘Hey, how we can help?’”

The district partnered with the Edwardsville Public Library, including Library Director Jill Schardt, enabling obtaining library cards for some students, and for some who do not live within the library taxing district.

District 7 provided Smith to attend a 10-week training program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She earned a level two certification in diversity, equity and inclusion.

She said the DEI Council will continue to develop, using District 7 constituents, much the same way as last year’s Equity Task Force.

“This work cannot be done in isolation,” she said. “It will require some feedback and some input. There’s plenty of work to be done in this area. We have districts around us that have been doing this work for many, many years.

“Our next steps will be to circle back to the work started by the Equity Task Force and use the data we already have from the listening circles to develop goals and objectives. The work will be intentional and continuous.”

Fox spoke about professional development opportunities.

“Our teachers who led this did an amazing job,” Fox said.”Actually, we’ve been asked to do it again for the people who did not have an opportunity to participate, this year.

“We also had another session called ‘Microaggressions,’ which was an online professional development session,” she noted. “We had some self-guided professional development opportunities, as well.”

Fox said the goal was to get as many different opportunities for staff members — for those who could attend outside of school hours, for those who could do self-guided and self-paced instruction for when they had more time — to broaden staff opportunities.

She commented on ‘Floodlines,’ a podcast series published by The Atlantic, a concise yet thorough history of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in Louisiana.

“If you have not listened to ‘Floodlines,’ I would really, really recommend it,” she said. “It’s eye-opening from the perspective of survivors and it takes a telling look at the role of media at shaping perspective.”

They also embarked on a self-guided professional development opportunity that was a book study, “Not Light but Fire.” It’s a book developed by one of the district’s staff interns and it is about leading race conversations in the classroom.

Next, Fox discussed specific curriculum work.

“One thing that came out of our meetings with Dr. Banks and the Equity Task Force was to contact Dr. Alex Cuenca, out of Indiana University, as a leader in social studies curriculum work,” Fox said. “We have worked with Dr. Cuenca throughout the course of this year to do a couple of things.”

Cuenca met with a group of elementary, middle and high school staff, plus administrators, to set equity standards that the district can use to evaluate curriculum resources moving forward. These are not standards limited to social studies but could be applied to any curriculum, she noted.

“These staff members met over multiple months. He took us through a series of activities, individual and group meetings,” she said, “to really set what we’re looking for.

The goal was to verify if a prospective future curriculum represents diverse perspectives and is there specific criteria to view, she explained.

Cuenca also is working on a Library of Congress grant opportunity for district 7. That grant would allow district 7 staff to work directly with the library’s primary sources to help create specific lesson plans for the board-approved “Black Experience in America” course at Edwardsville High School. This would also set a relationship so that the high school, middle school and, eventually, elementary school teachers can learn to use those resources as they expand perspectives courses in the high school.

The next district 7 school board meeting is at 7 p.m. May 24 at Woodland Elementary School, 59 S. State Route 157 or via the city of Edwardsville Facebook page.

Reach reporter Charles Bolinger at 618-659-5735.

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May 10, 2021 at 09:51PM

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