Monday, August 29, 2022

(New) School Board Comments on EDI

Richardson ISD is the fifth most diverse school district in Texas, and the largest in north Texas. RISD has recognized that fact for years and, in response, in 2019 adopted an "Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Policy" (EDI).

"June 10, 2019, is a big day," Superintendent Jeannie Stone said. "It's a big, big day." It was the day that the Richardson ISD Board of Trustees adopted the RISD Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) Policy in a unanimous 7-0 vote. "Once approved, trustees and members of the public delivered a standing ovation."

That was then. This is now. We all know what's happened in between, to Superintendent Stone and to RISD's unity. The three most contentious issues in 2021 were COVID-19 mitigation policies, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and, of course, EDI. It's time to check in on the (new) Board of Trustees and see where they stand on EDI.

At the August 25 board meeting, the RISD Board of Trustees heard from the administration on "Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Priorities for 2022-2023." I am encouraged by what the trustees said after the presentation. There was no hint by any trustee of wanting to repeal the EDI policy or water it down. There was no sign of waffling on the board's commitment to the existing policy. There was no disagreement voiced about how the district is implementing the policy. There was nothing but support for equity, diversity, and inclusion. It was like 2019 again. The district is in good hands.

Here are selected comments made by each of the six trustees in attendance. Hopefully, after viewing the video, Trustee Megan Timme will issue a statement as well. I've significantly shortened the comments for brevity and lightly edited them for clarity.

  • Debbie Renteria, Board Vice President:

    I know that people have heard me over and over again say, being the Latina, or Latino, I'm lucky enough to be elected to the school board here. And now I have more colleagues, Ms. Harris, the first African-American woman, and now we have Ms. McGowan. But all of my colleagues, every single one of them, Mr. Poteet, Ms. Timme, Mr. Eager, together we're just committed to this work.

    This a commitment that we all have to all of our students, regardless of what the demographics are, because it's every child, every day. Every day, all the time. So, again, I just want to commend you on all of that.

    It's not just about racial equity. It's not just about race. So many times we see equity and we think oh, it's black and white and brown...That emphasis [on other areas] is so important because it's just so much more than that.

    I'm just so so grateful to you and your department.

  • Rachel McGowan:

    Debbie is exactly right. We are where we are today because people fought for policies like this. People created policies like these. We as families see this firsthand with our own children's friends...who have never had a meal from Chick-fil-A or never even been to a movie theater. Those are equitable experiences. And there's so many parents in our community that just can't give it to their kids. That's why we are here.

    You have the biggest job in this community outside of our teachers. We have a huge role to play in increasing student outcomes for children who are economically disadvantaged. We have 57% disadvantaged children. There is no color that goes to a 57% number.

    As we engage with the diversity in the backgrounds in our community, whether that's SPED, socio-economic backgrounds, the LGBT community, the children that are suffering from bullying issues in schools because they are different, things other than ethnicity issues, we have to remember those kids, we have to remember those families. And that's what you're charged to do in this school district and my hat goes off to you.

    I love the community outreach. Like you said we're not going to wait for the parents to come to us. We're going to go to them. That's important. In many socio-economically disadvantaged families, they don't have the tools. They don't have the resources. They just can't get to us. They're working two jobs. Their kids are taking care of siblings. This is what we're dealing with every day. So I love what you're doing. It's hard work. It's the hardest work. And the results do show up in student outcomes. And that is the focus in education.

  • Vanessa Pacheco:

    I can't thank you enough for the work that you do as far as identifying barriers and breaking them down for the entirety of our learning community. This is for all students and all students benefit. I really appreciate that.

    I appreciate the fact that our school is looking to our LGBTQ group and helping them pilot new programs that help them to be seen, heard and become their best selves and feel safe in our school environments. I want to also say that I'm so glad that the appreciation of National Heritage Month is being looked at and I hope that the additional months are being added on in the future. Because we have so many more cultures and communities in our district that also want to be seen and heard and understood.

    As far as your ethnic studies, I think it's great because this is not just a mirror for the students that take these classes...They're windows for students who don't look like those histories to learn more about the experiences and embrace because that's who we are as a district. That's who we are as America. They will be better individuals. They'll be ready. They'll be ready for their future careers or future lives. I'm just so thankful for doing that for our students.

    And finally, I'm just so happy to see these committees and the fact that they have opportunities for our community and our families to join them.

  • Chris Poteet:

    I love the first month's focus on [learning to pronounce people's] names. I mean, that's huge. I've been all over the world and that's a major part of culture, right? And instead of us going all over the world and seeing those cultures, those cultures are coming to us. So understanding them is a huge paradigm shift and name is such an important part of that. I think that's a great, great action, whoever identified that should be commended.

    You've got a lot to do. You've got a high bar. You've got a motivated staff. You've got support. As you went through all these different pieces of your tasks, I kind of saw you as a kind of a connective tissue between a lot of pieces of the district. You're a value-added role to get some of these other people over the line...When Superintendent Branum talks about focusing on outcomes, that's kind of the end-all, be-all. That's what we're here for, right?...So I commend you all for focusing on that.

    The Parkhill Junior High story, that's the kind of thing that we need to be just yelling from the top of the buildings, we need to advertise those successes, and then build on those. We need a communication campaign to talk about those successes...So I would just challenge the administration to make sure that we're really telling those stories and getting them out there.

    The last thing that I highlighted was just understanding that the outcome relies on parental support. So to Debbie's point, you're going to the parents and have that family engagement. That's going to be a super critical piece and like you said, that's also a conduit for other pieces of the district to access the people that need that access.

    You know, we're all on the same team in the same boat trying to row the same direction.

  • Eric Eager:

    I want to commend Ms. Lee and her team because I was part of that Strategic Planning Committee in 2017 before I joined the board, and there were so many things that came out of strategic planning. In my experiences, strategic plans become dust on a shelf if there's not people in there executing to make the thing happen. And you and your team are making it happen...As my friends and colleagues have said, it's so needed and it is going to be so rewarding for our kids and our community.

    I knew we were the fifth in the state [in diversity] but it surprised me we're the 50th most diverse district in the entire country. And that is a huge opportunity for our kids. Because I just know in the workplace, out in the real world, that having cultural awareness is one of the top three skill sets that employers have in such high demand. If we think about it, we have an opportunity in our community, for our kids, and for everyone involved to learn and appreciate from these cultures and all these communities. That is going to give our kids a chance to be that next step up. It's going to give them an advantage in leadership. When they cross across that stage and have those diplomas, they're going to be better equipped and have higher skill sets than other kids in other districts. And that's something we should all be proud of.

    And so I commend you and thank you for the hard work you're doing. It is needed and it's going to affect generations of families and kids.

  • Regina Harris (Board President):

    I kept looking at Ms Renteria. Oh my gosh. Can you believe that two ladies in a PTA closet, who have had so many conversations about this very thing in trying to understand why we are not doing just this that you all are implementing today? It just excites me. Especially the family engagement. Especially the family engagement. It is an absolute game changer. To get our families involved, not just involved, but to help them understand that you are now seeing that you are valuable.

    I appreciate you. I appreciate you. I appreciate you far more than just a commitment. Because I know personally that this work is hard. I know you shed some tears. I know you've shed a whole lot of tears. And I know you've wanted to give up but you can't because you've got 37,000 plus students that are depending on you and then are depending on this board and we commit to be there for them. We commit to be there for them every day.

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