“What you're going to see in this microcosm, in this room, is going to show you what’s possible outside of this room.”
Members of Lakota’s newly formed Community Diversity Council heard these words from the facilitator, Jeff Stec. The Council, which includes parents, community members and staff, brings members of the community together to collaborate and share ideas with district leaders on ways to support all students.
“This has been a work in progress for two years,” said Board President Lynda O’Connor. “I’m very happy to see it come to fruition.” A resolution was passed at the June 5, 2023 board meeting creating the Community Diversity Council.
The Council is a board committee, with O’Connor and Board Member Kelley Casper as representatives, replacing the Board's original diversity committee with all five board members. “I appreciate the willingness of our parents, staff and community members to join us in this important work,” said Casper. “We have a very diverse student body: race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic background and learning abilities are just a few examples. I want this group to help us put more supports in place so that all students have their educational needs met.”
With 27 members, district leaders hope that the volunteers will take what they learn about the diverse makeup of Lakota students and share it with their neighbors and friends. “We want our community to learn what Lakota is truly about,” shared Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli.
Stec opened the meeting by asking what values and behaviors are important for Council members to demonstrate during meetings. Responses included:
- Respect, which includes listening to hear, not listening to respond;
- Be welcoming and accepting by assuming that the person you are speaking with has good intentions;
- Be constructive; and
- Have faith in the process.
The members agreed that asking questions to learn more about a person’s experiences is a good thing. “I want to learn,” said member Cesar Venegas.
Member Yasmen Brown-Jones agreed. “If we open ourselves up… there is a lot of room to grow,” she said.
Doug Cooper shared that he is “willing to be wrong, which turns into being willing to be persuaded.”
Breaking into small groups after a quick quiz game to learn facts about Lakota’s diversity, the members discussed potential goals for the Council:
- Lowering the temperature of politically-charged discussions;
- Educating the community about diversity, and Lakota’s diversity;
- Communicating within and outside the group;
- Helping the district react to issues that may arise;
- Building culture; and
- Supporting students.
The Council concluded that they liked that the goals are diverse and reach beyond academics. However, there was concern that the Council would not have the time needed to achieve the goals, only meeting four times during the school year. Requests for more specific information about what the Board and district leaders hope to accomplish were made by members. For example:
- What was the history that formed this Council?
- Will there be subgroups that work on individual goals in order to dig deeper into each one?
- What are the measurements to help us determine success?
- Is “lowering the temperature” about the students? If not, the goal needs to be refocused on them.
- What is the “why” of the group? It needs to be practical and not lofty.
Breaking into small groups once again, the members shared their “why” for joining the Council:
- We’re here because we want our students to be safe, comfortable and respected.
- We feel like something is missing from the community’s conversation about diversity in our schools. Something is missing about how we talk about diversity, both internally and externally.
- We need to define DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). I’m here to bring inclusion to the forefront - let’s bring what we have in common out and then we can work on D and I.
- Diversity helps our students succeed on all levels, both in learning and once they graduate. They will go into the real world where people don’t look alike.
- How is what we’re doing here an example for students and how is our work benefiting them?
- Collectively, every single voice of every single student matters. If adults get out of the way and we can listen to the kids, we can learn. Kids know their needs better than anyone.
- Students are like a garden; we give them rich soil, a rich foundation, but each plant (student) needs different supports (a cactus vs. a tomato).
- There are people in the community who want to remove DEI. We need to have the conversation as to why it’s important and needed and not the bogeyman.
O’Connor shared her thoughts on defining the Council’s “why:” “What are the barriers to learning that our students face? What can we, as a community, do to best support our students and eliminate these barriers?”
“The first meeting was a good starting point to discuss what the Council’s goals should be in order to break down barriers of education for our students,” noted Casper. The Council will meet in September to further the discussion. The specific date and time are still being finalized and will be posted to the Board’s committee meeting calendar when determined.
- school board