OUSD Looks at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

(Courtesy of OUSD)
As OUSD starts the new school year, it continues its work to improve equity and inclusion, trying to uphold its motto that “Everyone belongs here.”

    In 2017, the Orinda Union School District (OUSD) Board of Trustees approved a set of strategic directions that continue to guide the district.
   The directions list four values that OUSD teachers and administrators hope students will learn while at school, a “North Star” for district decision-making, according to Director of Curriculum and Instruction David Schrag.
   One of those goals is to “cultivate ethical and respectful citizens.” At a July 19 board meeting, OUSD took another step towards that goal by creating a new position in the district: a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) specialist.
   This employee will, among other responsibilities, assist in coordinating existing district DEI projects while also designing new programs as noted in the job description accepted by the board in July.
   Specifically, the hire will collaborate with parent groups at OUSD schools, the Curriculum Committee and the Wellness, Inclusion, Student and Staff Equity committee, improving communication between and among these groups to develop a more consistent approach to equity districtwide.
   “There is so much work that goes into all this thinking and planning and change,” said Board President Liz Daoust. “It would be really helpful to have a more unified, systematic approach as a district.”
   Within Contra Costa County, a similar approach to combating racism and promoting equity was taken by county supervisors with the creation of an office of racial equity and social justice in November 2020.
   The office proposal said the group would seek to achieve its goals through connecting existing county projects and initiating new ones.
   Nationwide, more than 30 other municipalities have also established offices focused on addressing systemic discrimination at a local level according to a 2019 policy analysis prepared for San Francisco County supervisors.

For years, OUSD has been working to make itself more inclusive, with the specialist role being one of the latest developments in a series of ongoing initiatives, Schrag noted.

At the same July 19 board meeting, the district hired Aida Glimme as its new superintendent after Dr. Carolyn Seaton announced her retirement in May. While evaluating applicants for the position, OUSD looked at many qualities, including a commitment to equity and inclusion, according to the district’s website.
   As for curriculum changes, in June the board approved a resolution recognizing Pride Month. Beyond acknowledging the need for “safe and inclusive” schools, the statement said OUSD will commit to teaching students about LGBTQIA+ issues (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) and offering professional development to staff.
   “This was an incredible moment for us, to see that our district was showing another level of support for students,” said Charles Shannon, an OUSD elementary school teacher and president of the Orinda Education Association.
   By highlighting different perspectives and people in the classroom, students can expand their worldview while becoming better critical thinkers, he added.
   “We know that is part of a world-class education, for our kids to know that our world is made up of lots of different types of people,” Shannon said.
   OUSD has also worked with groups like the Anti-Defamation League and Epoch Education to advance its DEI progress, hosting anti-bias training sessions for teachers since 2019. For the 2019-2020 school year, the league recognized OUSD as a “No Place for Hate” district, a status the group gives to institutions who have made efforts to prevent discrimination and bullying.
   Through these curricula and staffing changes, along with other activities that have taken place at OUSD, according to Schrag, the district wants DEI to continue to be a priority for the long-term future.
   “Orinda students are future leaders, so teaching them early on in a K-8 setting the importance of acceptance and inclusion is a worthwhile pursuit for the district,” he added
   “What we really want is well-rounded, thoughtful and empathetic human beings out in the world,” Schrag said.

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