Board considers diversity position

By Bryan Richardson

The USD 383 school board declared during its winter retreat Wednesday that it wanted to see an increase in its diversity efforts.

The discussion was sparked initially by a voice in the community.

Jurdene Ingram, the mother of two USD 383 students, argued during a November board meeting for reinstatement of the district’s diversity committee.

The demographics of the district have shifted significantly in recent years.

The percent of minority students grew from 27.8 percent in 2007-08 to 32.7 percent in 2012-13.

However, this hasn’t been matched on the employee side of things. This school year, only 12 percent of USD 383 employees are minorities.

“It’s been a challenge for us to employ people in the right positions who bring diversity,” superintendent Bob Shannon said.

Board members told the district administration on Wednesday that they would like to explore options for creating a diversity committee.

Board member Marcia Rozell said the district should take the same approach with diversity as it does with coordinating its bully prevention efforts. Under the district’s bully prevention program, each school has a designated person to help coordinate efforts.

“We don’t have the funds to hire a team, but we could somehow take it back to the building level,” Rozell said.

USD 383 had a diversity coordinator, Tiffany Powell, from the 2007-08 school year to 2010-11. Her role was to establish diversity measures within the district.

When Powell resigned and took another job, the board didn’t refill the position due to its effort to cut more than $600,000 from the 2011-12 budget. Powell earned $49,700 per year.

Shannon admitted the district hasn’t kept up some of her work – such as the district’s diversity groups.

“Some things we stayed with,” he said. “Others would warrant really looking at ourselves.”

Shannon said Powell’s former duties weren’t handed off, but her lessons continue to be used by administrators in the district.

“We still are better because of the years of the position and the emphasis,” he said.

Board member Pat Hudgins expressed concern that this could fade over time.

“As we turn over staff, we start to lose a little bit of effectiveness of maintaining that continuity,” she said.

Board member Darell Edie, who was running for school board when Powell gave her final board report, said he remembered her referring to the biggest diversity problem coming from socioeconomic gaps.

“That was one of the big things that really stuck out in my mind,” he said.

The district does not have an overwhelming number of students in struggling economic groups, but that total also has grown in recent years — jumping from 32.8 percent of students in 2007-08 to 39.1 percent of students in 2012-13.

The district hasn’t met some goals related to diversity that were set in 2007, but it has made gains in closing the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic students.

On the 2008 reading assessment, 81.8 percent of black students, 83.5 percent of Hispanic students and 91.5 percent of white students met the standard.

In 2013, 85.5 percent of black students, 90.7 percent of Hispanic students and 95.5 percent of white students met the standard.

On the 2008 math assessment, 71.7 percent of black students, 76.6 percent of Hispanic students and 88.4 percent of white students met the standard.

In 2013, 77.3 percent of black students, 82.8 percent of Hispanic students and 90.1 percent of white students reached the proper criteria.

Board member Dave Colburn said work remains despite those gains.

He said diversity efforts would be hard to accomplish without somebody actively coordinating efforts with passion.

“The body at rest tends to stay at rest,” Colburn said.

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