Mark Gooden, Eanes ISD’s diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI consultant, provided trustees with an update on the district’s DEI work during a May 11 board meeting.

Gooden, a professor and anti-racism educator, was brought on in July after students and community members raised concern regarding a lack of racial awareness on campus.

Gooden began by reviewing board meeting comments and collecting input from EISD community groups, parents and alumni. The conclusion was the district had a race issue that made students of color feel excluded or unwelcomed, according to Gooden.

During the May 11 meeting, Gooden presented the results of a climate survey for campus leaders and staff. The survey, which was developed by Gooden, was focused on the perceived issue of race and a suggested approach to address it.

A total of 47 campus leaders and 693 staff completed the anonymous 50-question survey, which asked participants to respond to statements on a “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” scale.

A sample question includes, “Our curriculum has been examined to determine whether it perpetuates racial bias,” according to the presentation.

These statements were measured in four categories; achievement, general awareness, general action and personal awareness and action. Overall, the statements in the general action category ranked low, which assessed the degree to which EISD took action to address racial inequities.

Still, Gooden said these responses reflected the climate surrounding racial awareness prior to the full year of DEI work, which Gooden said has included many accomplishments.

EISD approved its first DEI advisory committee, for which it received over 200 applications, led student focus groups, created a DEI website, adjusted the student handbook and provided professional training.

Trustees also declared DEI as a district priority at its annual board summit. Gooden applauded this action.

“I think that we don’t talk enough about that but I believe that’s huge,” Gooden told trustees.

He also took the time to address the difference between DEI work and critical race theory—an examination of how the law intersects with issues of race. Gooden said CRT is not used or taught at EISD.

Several community members have spoken out against CRT in the classroom. Parent Jill Williamson submitted a comment during the May 11 meeting.

“We are fully aware that the DEI initiative is absolutely rooted in the theoretical approach to interpret happenings in society through the lens of race. This is also known as critical race theory,” Williamson said.

Gooden said DEI and CRT work are not synonymous, and EISD’s work was focused on developing racial awareness on campus in an effort to increase the sense of belonging in all students.

“This is not a slight of critical race theory. This is not some charge to say that it’s bad, but that’s just simply not what we’re doing,” Gooden said.

Moving forward, Gooden recommended that the district select an individual to continue DEI work, engage the broader community in the goal, align DEI goals with board and administrative policies, among other actions.