The Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) aims to advance a diverse and equitable school culture through its commitment to awareness, education, and action steps.
This office comes at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. The recent events combined with the culture of the KCKPS school district have seen a collective outcry of people demanding justice and more effective support networks for individuals who traditionally have been underserved by institutions.
“The idea that all young people should have an equal chance to get ahead in life despite their background, financial backing, or what neighborhood they call home is at the core of our country’s ideals. And, public schools were created to be the great equalizer for young people…except, too often, they are not,” says Jason Thompson, Ph.D., KCKPS’ Executive Director of Equity and Inclusion. Dr. Thompson brings to the district more than 20 years of professional experience as a teacher, teacher educator, and tenured professor. “This Office of Equity and Inclusion is designed to ensure that what the most privileged are able to provide their children becomes the gold standard for what’s made available to all students,” Dr. Thompson emphasizes.
The OEI will function as a resource for the school district by:
- advancing diverse recruitment and retention strategies,
- facilitating institutional diversity and inclusion planning and initiatives,
- informing policy decisions, and
- providing best practices to ensure a positive campus climate throughout the district.
“I think it’s important to distinguish between ‘diversity’ (the presence of difference), ‘inclusion’ (having differences valued, welcomed, and meaningfully engaged), and ‘equity’ (providing appropriate access and opportunities for everyone),” insists Dr. Thompson. “Too often diversity and inclusion are thought about solely along lines of race or gender disparities, and those are certainly important. But we must think about the range of diversities such as ableist societies that discriminate against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior, or disproportionality of groups of students that experience maltreatment and school suspensions at rates higher than other groups, to name a few.”
District leadership takes seriously the need for constructive dialogue about what our district values as the most essential elements of diversity, inclusion, equity, and access. These desires include professional development on anti-racist and anti-bias practices, an integration of culturally relevant teaching practices, and diversifying curriculum offerings. As part of the district’s professional development, Dr. Thompson has facilitated a few educational training sessions on topics that explored the cultural community wealth (a critical race theory concept) that ethnically diverse students bring with them to the school that often goes overlooked and unidentified by school staff, and conceptual tools for racially equitable educators that delved into concepts like deficit ideology, racial battle fatigue, interest convergence, white privilege and emotionality. These specific topics came about to assist district professionals with the tools to better understand their own biases and how racial culture and injustices might mediate and influence their curriculum and instructional practices. But the OEI is scheduling a robust array of trainings to supplement a series of required trainings the district has implemented to ensure that all employees comply with federal laws, such as Title VI which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and Title IX which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Training and constructive conversations are only part of a comprehensive approach toward greater awareness and education. An important action step will be the implementation of working groups called OSPAs, or ‘Opportunities for Strategic Planning and Action.’ The purposes of the OSPA groups are to develop and implement actions plans related to critical issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity within the KCKPS district. “OSPA groups will include areas such as diversifying the curriculum, developing socially just education professionals, recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce, policy, and district/community partnerships, to name a few. The beauty of these groups is that they’ll be comprised of a cross-section of individuals at all levels who will work in solidarity to identify and address critical needs areas and offer tangible solutions,” Dr. Thompson adds.
Undoubtedly, students thrive when their voice is encouraged and their agency to make decisions is the norm. Student voice will be an important area of inclusion for the KCKPS OEI, and including students as sources of data and collaborators is essential. “It’s important that student voices are heard. But, it’s more important that those voices are viewed not solely as mere participants in the process, but as partners and leaders for what diverse and inclusionary school experiences can and should be,” Dr. Thompson asserts. As part of its efforts to project all student voices as legitimate sources of knowledge, the OEI will center students as both articulators of their perspectives and co-designers of their school experiences. This type of active participation is also a precursor to young people’s civic engagement as change agents for creating a better world.
“I cannot imagine any parent or educational professional that wouldn’t want our young people learning in a system that’s second-to-none,” said Dr. Charles Foust, Superintendent of Schools. “This office is a response to our collective resolve to ensure our commitment to placing young people first as we strive to become the school district for others to emulate.”
The OEI’s website will launch soon and provide resources for professionals, details about how the office can serve our district, and how it will partner with other community groups. You can contact the Office of Equity and Inclusion Office by emailing Dr. Jason Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.