In remarks made at the June 14 Lodi School Board meeting, District Administrator Vince Breunig sought to dispel some misconceptions regarding equity.
One narrative he said that’s been floating around the community is that this is about “the superintendent going rogue and the board was unaware of this work.”
Breunig stated that this is not accurate.
“The board was fully aware and endorsed the work that has been done around equity,” said Breunig. “The administration shared information throughout the year and through committee meetings, board reports and board trainings.”
Breunig mentioned how Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Nicholas Karls has shared information during his board reports on every professional development opportunity for staff regarding equity. Tiffany Loken, director of students services, did the same after every meeting of a group that chose to engage in a book study on equity.
Furthermore, the entire board participated in a professional development opportunity around equity in December of 2020, according to Breunig.
Also, Breunig said the board member who asked a question regarding equity at the last school board meeting sat in a meeting of interested staff who were reviewing information about what staff saw as a possible next step related to equity.
“Finally, if this was something that the superintendent really wanted to hide, why would we do a 20-minute presentation at the beginning of the school board meeting before we talked about school reopening, which is guaranteed when the most people in this community will be watching a board meeting?” asked Breunig.
Breunig went on to say he is thankful when people reach out to him and ask for information about decisions “… rather than assume and then sharing what is not factual.”
That kind of communication allows parties to have a real discussion, he said. Breunig also feels people in Lodi agree on more things than they disagree about, although it’s the disagreements that receive the most attention.
Regarding the district’s equity work, Breunig said one of the biggest questions he gets is related to what the district is hoping to get out of its staff training on equity. He said Lodi is a public school district, which means “we need to educate all of our students.”
“We are responsible for all of them,” said Breunig. “We also know that Wisconsin has some of the biggest gaps in achievement between students of color and other students. In Lodi, we see some of those same issues. We also see gaps with students with disabilities and students who are not disabled. We’ve seen gaps between students who are economically disadvantaged compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged. We need to do something about those gaps. We need to have a better understanding of our students, the issues that are impeding their education and the support we can put in place so our students can have success.”
Equity is about helping students be successful, said Breunig, and one of the first steps toward that end is ensuring that students in the district feel like they belong and are valued.
“That is the essence of the equity work we are doing here in Lodi,” said Breunig. “Equity is about addressing the needs that students have.”
Breunig said that a recent article stated that equity means equal outcomes for all.
“This is not the goal of the equity work in Lodi,” said Breunig. “It is more about making sure students get what they need to be successful.”
There is a difference between equity and making things equal.
For example, Breunig said that equal is providing every student a wheelchair, whereas “… equity is giving a wheelchair to the kids who need it. Equal is providing a translator to everyone. Equity is providing a translator to our ESL students. Equal is saying we have a weight training class in the summer for boys and girls and everyone should take part. When we realize girls weren’t taking advantage of this opportunity, equity is creating a girls-only class to teach them the skills to be successful in the weight room, which is translated into them being willing to join the combination girls-boys classes in the summer. Equity is giving kids what they need. It is not taking things away from one to give to another.”
Breunig noted that Lodi is becoming a much more diverse school district, but that it does not have a very diverse staff.
“Therefore, we continue to engage in discussions about how we can collectively create a sense of belonging for all of our students,” said Breunig. “This year we had a discussion connected to windows and mirrors. The idea behind this was that all of our students should have the opportunity to see themselves in a positive way in our building and our curriculum to help create a sense of belonging.”
Breunig mentioned posters on school building walls and the books read in class, wondering if they led female students or students of color to see themselves in a positive light.
“The message to staff around curriculum has been focused on creating a sense of belonging and positive reflection to all of our students,” said Breunig. “This seems simple and I would really classify it as just good teaching. However, it is often overlooked unless you stop to pause and really look at it. Not that a staff member would omit these opportunities on purpose, but we know it happens if we are not purposefully thinking about it in this way.”
That’s where equity training comes in, according to Breunig.
In conclusion, the work that we do around equity benefits all of our students, regardless of their color, their religion or their sexual orientation,” said Breunig. “We are preparing students to go out into a very diverse world where they are going to need skills to address some very difficult problems, 10-15 years from now, with people from all around the world. What skills do we want our students to have? We are not doing our jobs if we do not prepare students for this world. They need to be able to put themselves in others’ shoes, understand the challenges others have had, and appreciate what diversity brings to the table.”
Furthermore, Breunig added that the district’s equity work does not set out to make people feel guilty over the color of their skin.
“It is about creating a sense of belonging for all of our students, not just those who look like us, practice the same religion as us, or speak the same language as us,” said Breunig. “As I stated when I started, we are a public school, and we are charged with providing a great education to all students. All means all. There is no stepping away from that charge.”