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Building Superintendent’s Advisory Council a First Step to Examine Diversity

School systems across the country are examining the scope of racial discrimination and injustices that exist in student discipline, hiring, instructional practices and opportunities for advanced placement courses.

For Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation in Mishawaka, Ind., the work began in autumn 2019 when the school board member passed a resolution to end racial inequality in student discipline, hiring, instructional practices and AP courses.

It was a heavy lift to get the Superintendent's Advisory Council organized and functioning, but the monthly meetings of the council and four subcommittees remain well attended.

During “An Innovative Approach to DEI that Includes Stakeholders” at the AASA conference on Friday, two district leaders presented: Jennifer Sears, director of SEL and mental health, and Derrick White, director of diversity, equity and inclusion.  

The Superintendent’s Advisory Council is composed of administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members who examine the district’s goals of valuing and celebrating diversity. Four subcommittees with 10 to 20 members, focus on the main topics identified in the board’s resolution.

SAC members select the subcommittee they were most interested in and meet weekly to  provide feedback to administrators working within subcommittees and to develop action plans for the superintendent’s review at the end of the academic year.

Whole body meetings allow council members to define terms surrounding DEI. For subcommittee members, and subcommittees benefitted from a common language to allow them to focus on accomplishing specific goals.

Despite Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation’s “A” rating, presenters stressed the importance of a strong commitment, a growth mindset and clear communication. The timetable for change to be enacted within a district can be a subject for discussion, says Sears, and it’s key that subcommittee members are on the same page about the timetable they worked on, said Sears.

Next steps for the SAC involve the development of a steering committee. This committee’s task is to improve upon the proposed action plans submitted by subcommittees and turn the emphasis toward elementary schools and early schooling.

(Roman Nikolaev is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a junior English and secondary education major at Vanderbilt University.)

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