Creating a space where ‘every student is seen’ — USD 232 in De Soto looks to up diversity efforts

The USD 232 school district in De Soto may consider joining a metro-wide initiative to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. Meanwhile, the district is also creating a parent advisory committee to work on diversity and inclusion initiatives. File photo.

The USD 232 school district in De Soto may join a metro-wide initiative to improve diversity, equity and inclusion within its schools.

District Plans

In a presentation Monday evening to the USD 232 Board of Education, District Spokesperson Alvie Cater and Superintendent Frank Harwood said staff is considering an opportunity to join the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s plans next year to create an Equity Cohort within the Kansas City metro area.

Whether USD 232 chooses to participate, district administrators are already planning to create a parent advisory committee to provide input about the district’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“Essentially we all agree that we need to cultivate equitable spaces for learning where every student is seen, every student is supported and feels a strong sense of belonging,” Cater said.

The school board in August added a strategy to improve diversity, equity and inclusion as part of the district’s goals, according to a district memo. Cater said these efforts began before the COVID-19 pandemic; with the circumstances of an unprecedented school year, these plans are a few weeks behind schedule, but he said the initiative remains a top priority.

“We believe that we should work together in community-led efforts to promote and support racial diversity in ways that create meaningful experiences and provide access to opportunities for every child in our community,” district staff wrote in the memo. “A growing body of research shows that diversity in schools and communities can be a powerful lever leading to positive outcomes in school and in life.”

The school district’s efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (often abbreviated to DEI) is “a long-term commitment that will cover multiple years,” staff added.

Above the National Center for Education Statistics demonstrates De Soto community demographic estimates.

The foundation’s Equity Cohort will be limited to 10 school districts and local education agencies. While the foundation plans to fund the cohort so that USD 232 can participate at no cost, the district would have to contribute some staff time, administrators noted.

Each school district and agency would form its own team of five or six people to participate in the Equity Cohort for eight months, beginning in early 2021.

As part of the cohort, USD 232 would participate in an audit of the district’s school system that assesses diversity, equity and inclusion.

Some areas to be analyzed include:

  • Relationships between each student sub-group and academic performance
  • Diversity and equity across governance
  • Building operations
  • Teaching and learning
  • Student culture
  • Adult culture

By participating in the cohort, USD 232 would have some of the groundwork to create an equity work plan for the district. The USD 232 school board would be involved in this stage, since plans could require district funding.

‘as essential’ as COVID-19 response planning

District staff plan to participate in an informational meeting with the foundation Oct. 21. After evaluating the program to see if it supports the district’s DEI goals, staff will inform the foundation by the end of November on whether USD 232 will participate.

Prior to making a decision, district staff will update the school board at the November meeting on details from the foundation’s informational meeting. Cater said that at this point, the district is interested in participating.

Meanwhile, district staff is creating a parent advisory committee on diversity and inclusion initiatives. Two school board members may sit on this committee. The committee’s work will assist the district with developing equity work plans such as community engagement.

Board member Ashley Spaulding thanked the district staff for pursuing this goal, despite the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s especially impressive that we’re keeping this at the forefront; it’s just as essential,” Spaulding said. “It obviously had to take a little bit of a backburner just because of everything that we’re doing with COVID-19, but I very much appreciate that we’re looking into this program to see if it meets our goals and also forming the parent advisory group. I think all of these are fantastic steps towards making our district great in terms of DEI, so thank you.”

Staff said that if USD 232 joins the Equity Cohort, the working group representing the district would work alongside the new parent advisory committee as well as the school board in developing an equity plan.