The Waunakee school district’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee discussed this week recommendations it will make to the board of education to promote a more inclusive and equitable environment at K-12 schools.

Committee members have spent the past year collecting information from staff, students, parents and other stakeholders in the district to identify specific areas in need of improvement.

One tool the committee used to inform its work was the National Education Association (NEA) Opportunity Audit, a comprehensive needs assessment that helps districts identify inequities and determine the areas in which they should devote greater attention and resources.

The audit was recommended by a subcommittee of school professionals late last year, and asked stakeholders to evaluate the district based on seven NEA Great Public Schools criteria: school readiness; standards and curriculum; conditions of teaching and learning; workforce quality; accountability and assessments; family and community engagement; and school funding.

DEI committee members used the audit to identify priority areas in years ahead, forming recommendations that could improve equity and inclusion within those realms.

“Our goal was to come up with a report for the board that identifies some areas that we feel need focus,” committee member and WCSD Director of Secondary Curriculum & Instruction Tim Schell explained at an Aug. 16 meeting. “This is going to be a big assist to our (DEI) work.”

The committee finalized its report Monday night, and will present it to Waunakee school-board members for consideration in September.

School readiness

The first element of NEA’s Opportunity Audit asked stakeholders to consider the extent to which opportunity exists for all students in the community to access high-quality early learning programs. Committee members acknowledged that equitable access to early-childhood programming was an emerging area for the district, and recommended that it:

- Evaluate the level of awareness and accessibility to WCSD 4K programs and wrap-around care that is available to all families in the district.

- Provide outreach to network with child care programs beyond 4K sites, including pre-K programs such as Head Start.

- Improve communication practices to remove barriers to information access. This may include communicating with families who move into the school district in the middle of the school-year and providing interpretation and translation services.

Standards and curriculum

Stakeholders were asked to consider the extent to which curriculum is aligned to college- and career-ready standards, and how well it addresses the needs of students with diverse abilities and backgrounds. The committee acknowledged that the district was emerging in its ability to address those needs, and recommended that school officials:

- Review and update curriculum and curricular resources/materials through a diverse lens (e.g. history and sociology).

- Include BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) stories/books from BIPOC authors, both fiction and nonfiction.

- Provide consistent and repeated staff training, coaching and feedback on inclusion practices.

- Work with building coaches to develop comfort/capacity in leading professional learning for staff around equity in education.

Auditors were also asked to consider the extent to which learning communities within their schools provided the means to “accommodate, scaffold and enrich instruction for students with diverse needs.” Committee members noted that work existed in the area, and recommended that the district:

- Evaluate and monitor progress of students of different abilities and from different backgrounds, and report progress to the WCSD Board of Education.

- Create opportunities to ensure equal representation of students of different abilities and backgrounds in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

- Discontinue tracking systems that may exist based on perceived student abilities.

- Explicit staff training (inviting paraeducators) in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) tied to coaching and feedback.

Conditions of teaching and learning

Stakeholders were asked to consider the extent to which the district fosters positive teaching and learning conditions, and supports culturally relevant instruction via professional development focused on cultural competence and understanding implicit bias. Committee members found that this was an emerging area for the district as well, recommending that the district:

- Build relationships/trust to establish professional partnerships between school staff, BOE and administration.

- Engage students in the work and develop and/or improve communications to inform students of actions that support their experiences. This includes making a concerted effort to recruit, support and retain educators and community members as club and organization advisors (e.g. Black Student Union).

- Encourage the Board to revisit the time horizon before advisors can be compensated.

- Create a comprehensive, multi-year, and transparent plan/vision for work with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools.

- Offer ongoing professional learning opportunities that afford space/time to process, reflect, and apply new learning.

- Extend learning opportunities regarding culture and implicit bias to all staff.

- Work on systems that invite/require (and compensate) non-certified staff at these trainings (e.g. bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals).

The committee further recommended that the Waunakee school district document and evaluate impact of professional development via data collection regarding student achievement and belonging.

Stakeholders were then asked to consider the extent to which the district and its schools had a policy for addressing student-safety issues such as bullying, violence against marginalized individuals and other bias-related incidents. Committee members found this to be an emerging area as well, and advised the board of education (BOE) to:

- Review and update BOE policies and student handbooks to ensure it is supportive, humanizing, and age appropriate.

- Review K-12 policies around behavior with a committee consisting of students, staff, and families.

- Review and amend discipline policy to promote restorative practices that focus on learning in place of zero tolerance policies that focus on punitive measures.

- Develop policies that include language about Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Social-emotional Learning (SEL).

- Develop plan for communicating and monitoring fidelity of practice with regard to policies.

- Establish routines to review data collected in the newly created incident reporting system that allows students and staff to anonymously report incidents of bullying, harassment and bias.

Workforce quality

Stakeholders were asked to evaluate the extent to which the district worked with area higher-ed programs to identify, recruit and retain educators from underrepresented populations. The committee advised the district to recruit educators from its underrepresented populations, recommending that it:

- Review hiring policies to recruit staff from underrepresented groups who represent our diverse student body.

- Work with universities to recruit and/or incentivize BIPOC candidates.

- Consider a “Grow Your Own” program that enables people within our district to pursue educator licensure.

- Revisit adding the “Educators Rising” Program for students who may pursue education in the future and actively recruit BIPOC students to join.

- Inquire about other district’s efforts to retain diverse staff.

Accountability and assessments

Stakeholders were asked to consider the extent to which the district and its schools ensured that all students graduate college- and career-ready, via the implementation of programs and practices that have been proven to address advancement barriers. Committee members identified it as an emerging area, and recommended that the district:

- Provide outreach to families and to determine barriers that may exist for students who are preparing for college and/or careers beyond high school.

- Increase accessibility and opportunities in ACT preparation by eliminating fees and offering classes during school hours.

- Offer fee waivers forretaking the ACT exam, drawing these fees from Student Financial Assistance Fund.

- Create opportunities to ensure equal representation of students of different abilities and backgrounds in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

Family and community engagement

Stakeholders were asked to consider the extent to which the district devoted staff to engaging and representing families, while conveying school policies and procedures. Committee members acknowledged that a full-time community liaison does not exist, and advised that the district:

- Gather baseline data on family and community engagement to determine areas for improvement.

- Develop ongoing methods for examining family and community engagement and report to BOE/admin.

- Consider creating a community liaison position.

Auditors were then asked to assess the extent to which the district and its schools required teachers and administrators to participate in professional development focused on family and community engagement. Committee members questioned the existence of such requirements and recommended that the district:

- Provide professional learning opportunities and coaching to all staff/teachers in the areas of family and community including communication and relationship building. Such opportunities should be made available to all district staff who interact with students and families in and outside of the classroom.

- Demonstrate commitment to parent and community engagement through consistent attendance of administrators.

- Involve families as partners in this work through ongoing two-way communication, collaboration, and decision-making.

School funding

Here the report states, “WCSD is fortunate that we have higher than average funding that allows us to provide resources and support for our students that exceeds those provided in surrounding districts. Although not identified as a priority area, the committee identified two elements of importance that could be addressed by the district. First, the committee recommends our current educators and administrators have opportunities to participate in the development of the budget. In accordance, engaging our district staff in these discussions can help the BOE to identify and allocate resources based on areas of need in each building. Such efforts may ensure that our revenue streams are used in a way to maximize student achievement for all.”

The DEI committee will present its findings to Waunakee’s board of education members at their Sept. 13 meeting, at which time the board could take action on the committee’s recommendations.

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