NHCS Fairness Audit Completed, Recommendations Include Hiring Of ‘Chief Inclusion And Community Engagement Officer’

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The counselors, Stephenie and Rodney Smith, wrote part of their report based on a site visit in June 2021, interviews with NHCS stakeholders and findings from discussions during nine focus groups with students district, parents, staff, and community and school board members.

According to district contract with the company, who is based in Kansas City, Missouri, Sophic paid approximately $ 17,000 for his work, made recommendations in the audit regarding district equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives (DEIB) in seven areas:

  1. Culture
  2. Politics
  3. Communication
  4. Training and professional development
  5. Study programme
  6. Community engagement

And finally and more precisely:
7. Hire an Inclusion and Community Engagement Manager

Stephanie Walker is a member of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee. She said at the board meeting on November 9 that she hopes to pass a resolution to start the process of creating the post.

“If the superintendent is responsible for investigating and strategizing to do so.” We’re doing this at a time when the budget talks start in January, so hopefully by budget time he gives us a sheet that shows us how much it’s going to cost. [So that we understand] the duties of the officer, what the job will look like, what the organizational chart looks like, ”Walker said.

The audit said the position “must be a member of the management team and work alongside the superintendent.”

The audit also recommended that the district assist the school board to “review and transform policies and practices that perpetuate inequalities, including, but not limited to, access to vocational technical education, in high school and lottery schools ”.

The audit focused on inequity at Lyceum Academy at New Hanover High School. The program is considered an “accelerated college preparatory program”. The audit indicated that the program has “an over-representation of white students enrolled in the program and an under-representation of students of color.”

The audit consultants went on to say, “We highlight these disparities not to alarm, but to shed light; that despite the district’s promising commitment to equity, inconsistencies in the implementation of equity still exist.

Joshua Smith, district communications director, said they were looking for ways to raise awareness of programs like Lyceum and create specific communications plans for programs like the Marine Science Academy at Ashely High School, the undergraduate program international of Hoggard High and STEM. focus on Laney.

Deputy Superintendent Dr LaChawn Smith, who sits on the district EDI committee, said the committee has specific goals regarding providing equitable access to education programs like Lyceum.

“And so if we have programs that aren’t aligned with those goals, then looking at the work of our equity, diversity and inclusion committee, you’d expect them to look at that,” and this, again, is directly linked to the recommendation of the audit around our signature programs, our specialty programs. We want to make sure that we have equitable outcomes, equitable access, equitable distribution of resources, for all the students who are part of it, ”said Smith.

Board member Walker agrees. She said she wanted, for example, the “typical” Lyceum student to change.

“We want to look at recruiting, I think, and we really want to see where we can include kids who might not necessarily be what they think might be the perfect kid to be in Lyceum. […] Do we want the top of the top to always participate in this program or make it available for all students to try to have a chance at, ”Walker said.

The audit also highlighted the need to hire more teachers of color: “There is a shortage of educators of color in the district and the program needs to be representative of ALL of its students. “

In response to this identified need to recruit more teachers of color, Walker said, “We already have a teacher shortage as it is, and everyone knows it, but we have to work to recruit more teachers. teachers of color for sure, and the goal was to look at the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that we have in our state and in our region, and try to be more attentive to strategies.

Smith said recruiting teachers of color is “not a new challenge for schools in New Hanover County, nor a new challenge for many districts across the state and country. We work very closely with our human resources division, and they have a pretty comprehensive plan to engage in terms of recruiting in terms of mentoring and also retaining teachers of color, staff of color within the district.

The audit also addressed the controversy surrounding those who might not necessarily support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives: “There is an underlying division in the district; there are stakeholders who support this work and others who do not. But the consultants added, “While we recognize that not all community members support or appreciate NHCS’s commitment to DEIB, it is important to partner and align with those who do. make.”

But, despite this observation, the consultants finally declared: “[i]In order to substantially infuse DEIB, there must be universal buy-in from all NHCS stakeholders.

The consultants also said that even when the DEIB was accepted, “There seems to have been minimal recognition and very little conversation on these issues throughout the district. In fact, staff and students have expressed concern about whether educators can deal with these issues properly, especially when challenges arise. In many ways, these issues have been stressors on the mental health and well-being of students and staff. “

Stephanie Walker, NHCS board member, said DEIB is a value the district must uphold.

“Because if we have a really strong school district, that means it should be for every child. And there is work to be done. And I don’t think anyone would be against it, I really don’t think so in the end. Membership is important. […]. And so we have to work on that, ”Walker said.

Smith said most of the community values ​​diversity because it’s not just a discussion of race.

“When you talk to individuals, there aren’t a lot of people who don’t want a variety of perspectives. They want to know what other people think about a topic or an issue so that we can better understand that issue from different angles, ”Smith said.

Smith said she uses a “party planning” analogy when discussing DEIB with community members:

“Diversity represents the fact that you were invited to the party. Inclusion represents the fact that you have been asked to help plan the party. The fairness exists in the fact that it could redefine what the party involves and who is able to plan the party. So it’s not the people who usually plan the party; it’s a much more diverse group of individuals. And then the belonging, which at the end of the day is where we want people to sit and rest, is that you feel comfortable and welcome at the party, ”said Smith.

Smith added that she wanted the whole community to feel “that they all have a place in New Hanover County schools and that they are all comfortable with the work being done.”

Smith said the topic of redistribution was outside the scope of this audit, but it was a point of contention that a school parent raised during a focus group discussion – which has was noted in the report: “We didn’t choose a house until we chose a school. Unfortunately, we have had to prioritize the quality of education over diversity.

In response to this comment, Smith said, “There were some passionate quotes from our parents and our students. And it’s something that we really appreciate […] to hear their voices and hear their struggle, but [redistricting] was a topic that probably stuck in the minds of parents, but again, as we look at equitable outcomes, if we look at equitable access, we make sure resources are where they need to be, we’re going to address some concerns.

“And then when the district is at a point where it’s ready to engage in the redistribution process, I think there will be very different types of conversations happening at that point,” Smith said.

As the district completed the redistribution in late 2019, Walker said it was important to look at the balance of racial and socio-economic demographics in the next round.

According to a New Hanover County and City of Wilmington Community Relations Advisory Report 2020, the district continues to fight for equity between its schools. For example, in 2019, for Rachel Freeman Elementary and Snipes Elementary, approximately 99% of their student body is on Free or Reduced Meals (FRL). At Freeman, the demographics are 81% black students and 6% white students. For Snipes, it is 80% and 11% respectively.

Also, a 2017 UNC Center for Civil Rights Report found that “66% of schools in New Hanover were racially imbalanced.”

Board member Stephanie Walker said she grew up in Wilmington and benefited from the school system’s old inclusive policies. And she said she saw firsthand the benefits of going to school with people from different backgrounds.

“It’s not just about race, it’s about how we see ourselves from an early age. And how we grow together. And I feel like there are a lot of schools here that don’t have this opportunity, unfortunately. And I know kids love to go – and it makes sense – to go to the school closest to you. So I totally understand that. It’s just that we’re looking at the big picture. And we want to be a more inclusive society and grow as a city and county, so I think that’s part of that, ”Walker said.

Below: The Sophic Solutions Fairness Audit Report


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