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Guest Column: Accepting the challenge of diversity, equity work

Photo portrait of Rene Sanchez

By Rene Sanchez

CVSD Superintendent

I would like to share my thoughts on the status of diversity, equity and inclusion work in our beloved school district.

In these first months of my tenure, we’ve had several equity issues come to light that are very concerning. Upon personal reflection and through conversations with those folks directly impacted, I understand that these concerns could have been addressed in a more thoughtful and collegial manner. As we, as an institution, continue to grow, we will improve our knowledge and implementation of practices that support students, staff and others in diversity, equity and inclusion work.

I recognize that, often, growth comes with growing pains. In this case, the growing pains manifested in some of our staff feeling let down and frustrated. Folks have expressed that they feel vulnerable, targeted and even afraid to come to work. Our staff should never experience hostility while at work in our schools. These essential community members must be encouraged to continue their work focusing on the outcomes that we aim to achieve for every student in our care.

As superintendent, I’ve learned that developing and strengthening relationships goes a long way toward solving personnel issues and furthering diversity, equity and inclusion work. With honest and open communication, we can face personal and professional discomfort and grow together while also learning more about each other in the process.

But personal and administrative growth is only part of this complex picture. For significant change to occur as a district, it is essential to focus on the more significant systemic issues. A comprehensive equity policy can immediately call for a review of our board and administration policies and procedures to ensure they are equitable and fair. A sound equity policy has guidelines for formal and informal communication — how we talk to each other, how we provide access to co-curricular and other activities outside of the classroom, and how we measure and adjust for a student’s growth and progression through our system.

To address these systemic issues, I am taking a proactive approach. But I realize achieving equity takes more than one person. We must come together and work together. So, I’m asking the Champlain Valley School District community to guide and hold your district accountable along the way.

Under my leadership, these are some upcoming diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that I am excited to share with you:

  • First, pending school board approval, we will contract with Mass Insight to undertake a formal equity audit that will review many current district systems. This audit will start, in full swing, in January. We will seek volunteers to participate in focus groups on specific topics. Based on the audit results, we may need additional feedback or budgetary steps to fulfill the recommendations.
  • Second, on Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m., the school district will hold its first Town Hall on diversity, equity and inclusion. Our goal is to have a structured meeting where attendees can work together to create immediate and long-term action steps. I plan to hold town halls bi-monthly through at least the end of the school year. The insights gathered at these forums will help guide us into our five-year strategic plan work.
  • Third, I have been thrilled to meet with many of our local diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) community and school groups this year. We have many folks interested in the district’s work. I’d like to recruit members of these committees — as well as students, parents, staff and others — to join a CVSD DEI Advisory Group. The purpose of this group will be to help the district engage the wide range of voices from our five towns, our schools and the broader community. Our aim is to better understand the needs of our students and staff and ensure that those needs are met in policy and practice.
  • Fourth, beginning this March and concluding spring semester 2023, the school district will undergo a process to develop a five-year strategic plan. This plan will involve stakeholders across the district and use our equity policy as a lens throughout the strategic planning process. We will gather information to establish goals, metrics and action plans to guide our future budget, operational and educational planning.
  • Fifth, while not directly focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, I will create a Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee. This committee will consist of four students from each school who will provide me advice and feedback on the student experience in the district. Additionally, as a group, we will seek opportunities for leadership and service on their campuses and in the community. From these conversations, I hope to learn more about the daily and yearly experience of the students so my administration can use it as another data point for serving our students.

I want to acknowledge that daily DEI work can be very challenging. DEI work is necessary work, but it will take time and patience to implement correctly. As in other Vermont districts, CVSD is in the beginnings of its DEI work. If we can move the needle forward each day, each week, each month and each year to improve the academic, personal and social-emotional outcomes for each of our students, we know we are making needed progress.

It’s important to note that we are still actively managing the effects of Covid-19 on our students and systems. The pandemic has affected every student differently. Knowing and accounting for each student’s needs, especially after the nearly 20 months of irregular student access to school, is at the core of DEI work. Additionally, the pandemic continues to cause increased anxiety and decreased coping capacity, and strains the mental well-being of both students and staff. 

I recognize that this imperative work might seem overwhelming or be viewed as additional work on top of the regular course of business. But I assure you, as a district, we will strive to align our goals and target our outcomes to support this valuable DEI work.

I am honored to be your superintendent during this time of growth, inclusion and curiosity. I am confident that this journey towards providing equity in our school district is the right path. And I am encouraged by the many passionate voices within the CVSD community who will join me on this journey.

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