The Waunakee school board’s ad-hoc committee on equity and inclusion held its first meeting last week to discuss the scope of its work over the next 12-18 months.

The committee was formed earlier this year to identify potential shortfalls in district policies.

Serving on it are 27 members of the school community: board of education members Mike Brandt and Brian Hoefer, Director of Curriculum Tim Schell, school social worker Christy Sheppleman, ELL instructor Monique Mobley, DPI’s Nia Vang, Joel Lewis, Audrey Deppen, Bethany Pottinger, Cathy Kittell, Diane Treis Rusk, Emily Meier, Izabella Moore, Jamie Griffin Strachota, Katie Grundahl, Lara Ostrander, Leslie Petty, Melanie Meister, Melissa Hernandez, Michelle Berg, Mike Pisani, Pamela Potter, Paul Whitley, Regina Pagel, Samuel Kaufmann, Shawn Paul and Stephanie Shefchik.

At the group’s initial meeting, held Sept. 1, chair Mike Brandt asked for feedback from members as to where they felt the committee should begin its work on equity and inclusion.

Brandt shared the school board’s charge to committee members as a point of reference.

In it, seven tasks have been identified as needing to be accomplished by the group. The majority of those tasks involve reviewing district policies that may need to be improved for equity’s sake.

“This is the document – the charter – that was approved by the board of education,” Brandt said. “So this is what we’re limited to. It’s very broad, and was worded that way specifically so that we can do all of these things. But I don’t know precisely where we should start.”

Former school-board candidate Joel Lewis suggested that the committee begin by looking at race, citing a recent incident where teens recorded themselves yelling the N-word out of their vehicle.

He said civil unrest throughout the country proves that race is a national topic as well.

“I think that is probably the first thing we need to tackle,” Lewis said, “because we have a lot of stuff that is marinating. And we just want to make sure that we get ahead of it before it starts getting worse… So I guess I’d vote to start with race.”

An assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Leslie Petty recommended that the committee gather information from district stakeholders through a community survey.

She noted that its results could help identify a starting point for the committee’s work.

“As we take a look at the charge to the task force,” Leslie said, “what we’re being asked to do is to review the current state of the school district and advise – or develop a possible plan. I would suggest us doing a survey to try and get a better understanding…We need to collect information.”

Lodi principal Mike Pisani, whose children attend Waunakee schools, agreed more data would be useful.

“Another possible tool is an equity audit,” Pisani said, “looking at outcomes at all kinds of different levels – from staffing levels to over-representation of kids in special ed – just gathering that information as a baseline to help us identify where we want to go as a possible next step.”

Waunakee school psychologist Melanie Meister said that, wherever the committee starts, staff members should have the assurance that the district will support them in their discussion of race.

“Staff members need to feel like they’re supported by the district and the board if they talk about race explicitly,” Meister said. “There’s a lot of fear that they’re going to be labeled as trying to indoctrinate students, especially our youngest learners. They’re fearful that they might feel some repercussions if they do those conversations. So I think staff are looking for some protections.”

Brandt said an action item could be taken at the school board’s next meeting, expressing support for the committee and its work. As of press time, that statement had not yet been released.

The item has been added to the Sept. 8 Waunakee school board meeting agenda, however.

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