The Waunakee school board endorsed three partnerships recommended by the district this week, as part of an effort to increase equity and inclusion inside its schools.
Partner organizations would provide training and access to technical resources for staff.
One partnership proposed during the board’s most recent curriculum committee meeting was with National Equity Project (NEP), an educational reform organization specializing in leadership development.
“The National Equity Project is one of the leading ed-reform organizations that do work in this area,” said Director of Curriculum Tim Schell. “And many districts in our region have been partnering with the National Equity Project. So what we have here is a one-year commitment.”
According to the contract, the district would participate in NEP’s Leading for Equity Redesign Network (LERN). The network would consist of several upper Midwest school districts.
Each district would create its own team of teachers, administrators and school-board members.
Teams would then take part in leadership coaching, and monthly leadership-development and strategy sessions. The entire network would convene during three virtual, 3-hour sessions.
“This would be a network of other upper Midwestern school districts that would receive additional training from the National Equity Project,” Schell said. “That regional network is going to look at diversity and inclusion questions across the entire spectrum.”
The contract for 2020-21 would come at a cost of $30,500.
Committee member Judy Engebretson asked whether the project would be worth the investment, noting that district staff might not have as much time to devote toward professional development.
She pointed to the added demands that have been placed on educators as a result of the pandemic.
“With the pressures that we’re under for how we’re going to deliver education to kids,” Engebretson said, “are teachers and staff going to have the time or the energy to participate in as many of these things as they would’ve in a normal year?”
Schell noted that the network would be operating virtually this year, which would reduce barriers to participation such as travel time and a limit on the number of staff who could take part.
He added that recent events have led to increased interest in the subject matter.
“Members of our team may be even more engaged in this,” Schell said. “We are having a higher-profile conversation around issues of equity and inclusion that – despite all of the challenges people may be experiencing with the pandemic – may actually increase a desire to participate.”
Another partnership proposed at the meeting was with the Nehemiah Project, a Madison-based nonprofit with programs designed to promote the physical and emotional well-being of youth.
“What we’re proposing here is to partner with Nehemiah on a project to reflect on and update our social-studies offerings for our students,” Schell said, “to more comprehensively reflect the African American experience in American life and in world history.”
The project would involve a one-month needs assessment, six professional-development sessions and 12 hours of teacher and administrative study groups.
Services would cost a combined total of $32,000.
Committee member Mark Hetzel said he supported the partnership, but asked why curriculum changes were not being considered in regard to the history of other ethnic groups.
“If we’re going to be looking at a specific curriculum for potential change because of limited exposure to some of the realities of slavery and the Black experience,” Hetzel said, “shouldn’t we be incorporating the Hispanic and Native American experience as well?”
Schell said the social-studies project was the first part of a long-term effort to revise curriculum.
“I don’t think we can do it all at once,” Schell said. “We have a proposal with Nehemiah this year, to look at African American history. But we would want to come back in the next few years and ask similar questions about Latino history and also the Native American experience.”
The final proposal was to join the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), a coalition of multiracial districts generally located in small to midsize cities or first-ring suburbs.
The coalition’s website notes that member districts have student populations of 3,000 to 33,000.
“It has a broad mandate to look at addressing opportunity and achievement gaps in schools,” Schell said. “And one of the great things about MSAN that distinguishes it from the other two is, MSAN has always tried to elevate the student voice.”
Schell noted that the organization holds an annual student conference of which youth leadership development is a major part. He said that focus would benefit both students and staff.
Membership and participation costs have been estimated at $25,000 to $28,000 a year.
Schell said the partnerships would fulfill a DPI requirement that the district engage in continuous improvement, following the finding that it had racial disproportionality in its special-ed program.
“Black students are referred to special education at approximately three times the rate of white students in our district,” Schell said. “And that’s a problem. As a result, we – like many districts – are required to submit a plan to improve this area and lower that ratio over time.”
The DPI has required that the district submit evidence of its continuous-improvement activities by October 31, and allocate 15 percent of its IDEA Part B grant toward addressing the problem.
The district has projected that percentage to equate to $114,307 for the current fiscal year.
The partnerships proposed by the district would cost approximately $90,000. More than $24,000 of the 2020-21 funds would remain for expenditure on other continuous-improvement activities.
“Financial obligations of these partnerships aside,” Schell said to members, “we felt it was really important to make sure you were aware of these partnerships that we have in the pipeline to try and make progress on these questions in our district.”