The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Schools plan next steps on diversity plan
EAST LYME — The East Lyme Board of Education is ready to take the next steps in its diversity work after reviewing findings from a root cause equity analysis conducted by the Equity Institute, according to a discussion during Monday night’s meeting.
The findings were first presented to the board at its
Sept. 13 meeting by Equity Institute CEO Karla Vigil and partners Kaitlin Moran and Katya Rodriguez, who made recommendations on how to move forward with tackling overarching problems identified during their survey, focus groups, and interviews with district stakeholders.
Issues the team discovered during research in
clude students and staff experiencing stress when trying to succeed in a high-achieving district, a desire for trade and technical education classes, and a seemingly overidentification of students of color receiving special education services.
Other problem areas cited are students with health impairments or financial hardships facing obstacles in the district, a lack of staff diversity, and female students feeling unsafe and harassed by sexist comments.
Recommendations included prioritizing and investing in mental health supports, establishing school and community norms on respect and inclusion, auditing the curriculum to uncover inequitable tendencies and through lines, recruiting staff from outside of Eastern Connecticut, and more.
“There was a lot of good things. I think it really spoke to my focus, which is really about that sense of belonging for all kids this year,” Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said, according to the meeting videorecording.
After the Board of Education received these findings Sept. 13, the full report was brought to the board’s diversity, equity and inclusion ad hoc committee a week later. Newton and committee members Barry Sheckley, Leigh Gianakos and Timothy Hagen discussed the steps forward.
For now, their focus is on continuing a commitment to the goals and procedures outlined in their diversity, equity and inclusion policy.
“I certainly think it was, overall, very consistent with where our strategic plan was kind of aiming us, or pointing us, in the direction (of) the path we were taking,” Hagen said at Monday’s meeting.
The strategic plan was approved by the board in April. Some items on the list have already been completed, including the Equity Institute audit.
The action item in the strategic plan is to make curricular revisions, something the Equity Institute recommended when sharing its findings.
East Lyme, and all school districts in Connecticut, were required to offer an elective course at the high school level that provides students with a better understanding of African-American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino contributions to U.S. history, society, economy and culture by this fall.
One course is not enough, according to East Lyme’s plan. “Companion curricula refinements throughout all schools and at all grade levels would be necessary to target the dual nature of the problem the [East Lyme Public Schools] face,” the plan reads.
Another study recommendation was the addition of trade and technical education classes, something Newton said he is already thinking about. “I kind of pulled forth some important focus points that I thought were of most value,” he said.
The fifth action item in the diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan is hiring faculty and administrators committed to countering racism, advancing diversity, promoting equity and fostering inclusion.
The plan refers to research that says there is a long-term impact of same-race teachers on academic achievement.
“Black students assigned to a Black teacher in grades K-3 are 13 percent more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college than their peers who were not assigned a Black teacher,” the plan reads. It also says that white students may also see negative biases shift while around staff of color.
East Lyme Public Schools is a mostly white district, comprised of approximately nine percent Asian students, eight percent Hispanic/Latino(a), five percent of those identifying as two or more races, and two percent Black, according to the plan.
To diversify the workforce, the district will develop and implement a minority educator recruitment plan, something the institute also recommended.
All these recommendations will be used as a guide going forward, with some being instituted in the district, officials said.