For the past several years, a group of Shawnee Mission parents have been urging the administration to improve diversity and inclusion efforts across the school district. On July 1, a new staff member joined the district with the task of addressing just that.
Tyrone Bates, Ed.D., is the school district’s first ever coordinator of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Bates comes to Shawnee Mission with nearly two decades of experience as a classroom teacher and administrator. He spent the bulk of his career as a teacher and building administrator in Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, and spent a year as the principal of the African-Centered College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City Public Schools. The past three years, he was the principal of Banneker Elementary in KCKPS.
Over the past several years, Bates has been leading diversity and equity workshops for a variety of groups — from upper level administrators to elementary students. He said his passion for the work motivated him to apply for the job in Shawnee Mission when it was posted.
“I kept thinking I need to be in this work all day every day,” Bates said of the fulfillment he got from leading the workshops. “This opportunity came available…and I figured this was the right fit for me.”
Bates’ position is inside the department led by Family and Student Services Director John McKinney.
McKinney and Bates say that this coming semester will be a time of orientation as the department begins to identify where the greatest needs are and develop strategies to address them. Bates plans on spending a good deal of time visiting buildings and meeting with district leaders. The department will also be overseeing implementation of the new Corwin deep equity professional development training program approved by the board of education in April. That “train the trainer” program will give a group of district employees the background they need to teach “culturally responsive” classroom strategies to teachers in their buildings and beyond.
The goal, McKinney said, is to ensure that cultural issues that could prevent students from reaching their potential — feelings of being sidelined because of race, religion or sexual orientation, for example — are addressed before they cause problems.
“Every student needs to feel respected and valued,” McKinney said.
Moreover, when students learn to appreciate the diversity of their classroom peers, they’ll be better prepared for the world they’ll leave when they graduate, McKinney said.
“We’re not just preparing students academically, but culturally as well, with the skills they need to be successful in whatever path they choose,” McKinney said.
Bates said open mindedness is at the root of improving cultural understanding, and will be central to his work with students and staff.
“The message is to be a listener and a learner,” he said. “That’s what we teach kids in the classrooms: Be open. Don’t come in thinking that you know it all. Don’t think that you have it all figured out. There’s always more to learn.”
McKinney and Bates acknowledged that Bates’ arrival is just a first step in efforts to improve the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The parents group that had been working with the administration had recommended the creation of a full diversity office with multiple staff members — not just one employee. But, says McKinney, bringing Bates on board is a big move.
“It’s a huge first step that the Shawnee Mission School District said, this is important to us. We’re going to take this seriously. And we want to make sure we have a person in a position to immediately address those concerns as they arise,” McKinney said.