A look at parent group’s recommendations for improving diversity and inclusion efforts at Shawnee Mission schools

Etienne Clatanoff speaking at Monday’s board of education meeting. Clatanoff and members of the diversity and inclusion group are asking the district to take more action on the issues.

Over the past couple of years, the group of parents who organized in 2015 to address cultural competency and race relations at Shawnee Mission schools have worked on a document outlining a broad strategy for improving the district’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

On Monday, members of the group spoke at the board of education meeting urging the district to take action on the recommendations after months of behind the scenes discussions.

“This group has presented these recommendations at least four times to cabinet members and the interim superintendent and current superintendent in the last year and a half,” Etienne Clatanoff, a Belinder parent and one of the group’s early members, told the board Monday.

Anisha Jackson, a SM West parent, was among the members of the group who addressed the board Monday.

While the district is taking what Superintendent Mike Fulton described as some “first steps” on the issue, the recommendations developed by the group go substantially beyond the staff training and addition of a diversity and inclusion coordinator the administration has committed to.

Below is a look at each of the 12 recommendations in the group’s plan:

  • 1.) Create and incorporate a district diversity plan into the strategic plan. The district has kicked off its long-range strategic planning process. The group believes that the results should include a diversity-specific section that includes delegation of responsibilities and a statement of accountability.
  • 2.) Cultivate a board, administration, staff and faculty that reflect student demographics. Current estimates show that approximately 40 percent of students enrolled in the district are students of color. The group believes the district needs to proactively recruit staff members of color to better reflect the demographics of the students being taught.
  • 3.) Require diversity training for the board, administration, faculty and staff. This is one of the recommendation areas where the district has moved forward since Fulton’s arrival. Fulton announced on Monday that the administration was completing research on what the district described as “a sustainable comprehensive training model for all staff that will begin next year.”
  • 4.) Close the achievement gap. The group wants to see the district take more accountability for the academic performance of at-risk subgroups, including English language learners; low-income students; and students of color.
  • 5.) Develop an equity scorecard. As a means of measuring progress in closing the achievement gap and ensuring equitable treatment for all students, the group recommends the district keep close tabs on data in areas including suspension rates; AP and International Baccalaureate class enrollment rates by subgroup; ACT/SAT score trends by subgroup.
  • 6.) Develop a diversity office. The group believes Shawnee Mission should follow other districts that have faced sharply shifting demographics and devote resources to a central office equipped to manage many of the specific recommendations it has made. Fulton announced on Monday that the district had cleared the way toward the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator staff position that would sit in the department of Student and Family Services. But group members say that’s not enough to meet the needs across 40 buildings. They recommend a fuller staff with a Director of Equity and Inclusion and a Director of Multilingual Education.
  • 7.) Hire a diversity consultant. The group believes a professional trained in organizational diversity issues would be able to “help design and implement a comprehensive diversity and inclusion plan” that would be incorporated into the broader strategic plan.
  • 8.) Hire parent/school liaisons for each building. The group believes that, particularly at Title 1 schools, a staff person tasked with “connecting the home and school in a positive, respectful and welcoming manner” can increase parent involvement and can reduce the need for the intervention of outside agencies.
  • 9.) Develop a parent center. The group recommends the creation of center funded through School Improvement Grants that would offer parents programming in areas including life skills training, parenting classes, and health and wellness.
  • 10.) Hire an internal general counsel. This is another area where the district has moved in-line with the group’s recommendations. The group sees having an in-house attorney as a measure to “reduce SMSD’s exposure and liability from investigations, negative public relations and lawsuits by students, families, employees and taxpayers.” The district started moving forward with the hiring of an in-house attorney in December.
  • 11.) Develop an equity strategy. The group believes the district needs to lay out a plan to engage at-risk students through initiatives including professional development and mentoring, among others.
  • 12.) Improve diversity and inclusion communication. The group believes the district’s central office needs to clearly communicate to patrons about the diversity and inclusion efforts it’s undertaking, including updates at board meetings and to school PTAs.

The group is asking for patrons to sign on to a letter addressed to the board of education that urges the establishment of a comprehensive equity and inclusion plan.

“SMSD has excellent teachers, a hard-working staff and an overall welcoming community, but recent events in neighboring school districts and some incidents in our own district make it naïve to believe that those are the only issues experienced by students in our district,” reads the letter. “We can and should do more to ensure that all SMSD students experience a learning environment that is inclusive and respects all students and staff.”

People can sign on to the letter here.