The board of trustees and district leaders reflected on the past six months of diversity, equity and inclusion work during a Jan. 12 board meeting. That work has included student focus groups, needs assessments and community meetings.
The district formally kicked off its commitment to DEI work last July after students and community members publicly shed light on accounts of problematic behavior and racial impropriety within the district. The month prior, alumni and current students rallied to form a grassroots initiative, Chaps for an Anti-Racist Eanes, which quickly swelled to include more than 1,000 supporters.
In response, trustees unanimously approved a contract July 22 to employ professor and anti-racism educator Mark Gooden as EISD’s diversity, equity and inclusion consultant for the 2020-21 school year. Under Gooden’s guidance, the district established its first DEI advisory committee and pledged to build a community of trust through the development of racial awareness on campus.
In the months that followed, a wide range of DEI work has occurred at both a district and community level, according to Gooden.
“It really does warm my heart to know that you have groups who are working on this in multiple aspects of their lives,” he said.
The DEI committee, which was formed after the review more than 200 applications, has been in the process of assembling since October, and Gooden said every member has been heavily engaged.
EISD secondary schools have served as the pilot campuses for the program. At that level, Gooden has conducted seven training sessions and three student focus groups.
Furthermore, 52 district leaders and 1,027 staff member underwent a needs assessment developed by Gooden, which he referred to as Gooden’s Reimagining Racial Awareness and Cultural Equity assessment.
Gooden said he has also engaged with the community-led groups, such as CARE, as well as entities, such as a local Boy Scout troop and a group of EISD special-education parents.
These opportunities have allowed individuals to share personal experiences and have aided EISD in developing common themes regarding DEI within the district.
Amid the districtwide excitement around and interest in DEI work, Gooden said several concerns have emerged during campus meetings. A common hesitation, he said, involves the ability to tackle DEI work amid the ongoing pandemic struggles, among other responsibilities.
Additional themes included the need for leadership support amid the occurrence of a controversial situation regarding race. Other individuals stressed the need for DEI work to have a more prominent presence and called for additional leadership and staff education.
Several community members, including EISD parent Caitlin Sweetlamb shared this sentiment, during the meeting’s open forum session.
“Being able to engage in a healthy multiracial community is a necessary 21st-century skill,” Sweetlamb said. “As an Eanes parent and educator myself, I want to see the board strengthen its commitment to DEI by making it an official priority at the strategic summit Jan. 21.”
Moving forward, EISD will conduct an additional student focus group at West Ridge Middle School and will hold several community meetings.
Following's Gooden's presentation, board members expressed gratitude for the community's work and commitment.
“Culture change is hard, and I appreciate all of the folks who stepped up to take it on,” Board President John Havenstrite said.