New position at Eanes ISD aims to help rectify what many recall as legacy of racism

Eanes ISD trustees approved Dr. Mark Gooden's contract during a July 21 board meeting. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)
Eanes ISD trustees approved Dr. Mark Gooden's contract during a July 21 board meeting. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)

Eanes ISD trustees approved Dr. Mark Gooden's contract during a July 21 board meeting. (Courtesy Eanes ISD)

A culmination of troubling and racist behavior from recent Westlake High School graduates, former students testifying to Eanes ISD’s racially problematic past and an international movement have resulted in officials adding a new position to the district.

Board members unanimously voted during a July 21 board meeting to approve a contract to employ Mark Gooden as a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant for the 2020-21 school year.

Over the last month, several EISD community members have publicly shed light on a long history of problematic behavior and racial impropriety within the district. In June, Westlake High School alumni rallied to form a grassroots initiative petitioning for action called Chaps for Black Lives Matter, now renamed Chaps for an Anti-Racist Eanes.

The advocacy group has since swelled to more than 1,000 supporters, who have called upon EISD to hire a third-party specialist focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, also referred to as a DEI consultant.

Under Gooden’s guidance, EISD has committed to promoting social justice and racial awareness within the community, in part through an examination of student handbook policies, staff development, school traditions and curricula.

Gooden has worked with districts throughout the country and locally at Austin ISD. He currently serves as the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor professor of education leadership and is the director of the Endeavor Antiracist and Restorative Leadership Initiative at Columbia University.

He will begin working with the administrative team as early as July 30 to refine staff professional development prior to the 2020-21 school year, according to EISD information.

Several dozen former and current students publicly advocated for the addition of a DEI consultant during the meeting’s open forum session, when individuals continued to share powerful testimonials recounting experiences with racism at EISD.

“People used to ask me if my father was the janitor and if I was Mexican just because my skin was darker,” alumna Isabel Horne said. “When I was in middle school I watched some of the most popular kids in my grade say the n-word. In the sixth grade, a girl screamed 'white power' at me while I begged her to leave me alone.”

Others highlighted a need for teachings against anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and harassment perpetuated by current and former students.

During the July 21 board meeting, Gooden addressed community members who have publicly recounted difficult memories to district officials over the last couple of months.

“I do want to acknowledge and say thanks to the alumni and current Eanes ISD students who are courageously speaking their truth,” Gooden said. “You are courageously showing your love to this community by saying that it is time to engage in meaningful anti-racist work.”

Gooden and EISD will continue to prioritize public feedback in the development of a new community advisory group as well as a district equity team.

Superintendent Tom Leonard called this a unique moment in history for the district and stated EISD is lucky to have a community so committed to meaningful change.

“I have been in schools for a long time. I have never seen high school kids and middle school kids as socially conscious as they are at this point in time,” Leonard said. “They want to change the world, and we need to be ready.”

Following the approval of Gooden’s contract, trustee and 20-year Westlake resident Christie Bybee concluded the meeting with an emotional statement to the community.

“I want to offer my apologies to all the students that have been victims of racism over the years. I feel like I failed you as a trustee. I feel like I failed you as a woman of white privilege,” Bybee said. “But what I do know is that we can do better, and we will do better.”
By Amy Rae Dadamo
Amy Rae Dadamo is the reporter for Lake Travis-Westlake, where her work focuses on city government and education. Originally from New Jersey, Amy Rae relocated to Austin after graduating from Ramapo College of New Jersey in May 2019.