Boosting equity, diversity and inclusion

Three years after the Ashland High School leadership committee known as the site council targeted equity, diversity and inclusion as its primary focus, the school has rolled out A multifaceted plan whose goal in part is to make school “more safe and welcoming for all regardless of their differences.”

Much more than a broad statement of the school’s overarching philosophy or a list of dos and don’ts, the Ashland High School Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which is available on the school’s website (, includes a four-pronged “Goals and Results” section designed to track the school’s progress in areas such as recruiting a more diverse pool of applicants for teacher and administrator vacancies, making “all” curriculum, books and materials diverse and inclusive, and decreasing hate speech and related incidents.

An EDI Committee made up of teachers, administrators, other staffers, students and a parent will oversee the plan’s implementation, and humanities teacher Libre Cory was picked by Principal Erika Bare to serve as the committee’s first facilitator. Their first meeting is scheduled for this week, Bare said.

The 2,328-word document, first published in June, borrows heavily from a similar plan etched out by the Corvallis School District, and begins with a thank you to CSD along with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University for helping to hammer out the details.

Bare said her predecessor Michelle Zundel, now Medford’s chief academic officer, really got the ball rolling by putting the staff through some implicit bias and cultural agility training about five years ago.

“We were all very inspired by the work and wanted to make sure the work continued,” said Bare, who succeeded Zundel in 2015.

The goals and results section is broken down into four tiers, each of which lays out anywhere from one to six goals. Each goal has a specified leader, timeline and results — that is, the method by which the school plans to reach its desired result, or the desired result itself.

In the first subheading under Goals and Results, for instance, the fourth goal listed is Capacity Building, to provide mentorship, counseling and advocacy for all students. The leader is the EDI committee, the timeline denotes an upcoming September check-in and the results section indicates that in addition to the counseling office and existing ASPIRE program, a partnership with SOU to provide student mentors was implemented in 2016-17. In addition, it adds, “the EDI Committee will work with administration to explore setting up a relationship with SOU to provide mentorship and advocacy in 2017-18,” singling out the possibility that students from SOU’s Black Student Union may volunteer at AHS.

Some of the goals are designed to help the school adapt to an ever-changing cultural landscape. Goal 2 under the Climate subheading, for instance, declares that results of an annual diversity survey will be used by the EDI committee to improve the EDI Action Plan.

The other two subheadings under Goals and Results are Curriculum and Instruction and Community Engagement, which only has one goal: “To increase awareness of community organizations that support diversity, equity and inclusion; to provide information designed to support parent involvement in student success in high school.”

Determining what to include in the plan and how precisely to measure success rates while constantly adapting was a real challenge, Bare said.

“Well, there’s a reason it took us two years to come up with a plan,” she said. “We did quite a few different things. First, we reviewed a significant number of similar plans in other school districts and other organizations in the country and wanted to glean their best thinking. We did a lot of work with surveying parents and students about what they see as needs, what they see as areas for improvement. We took that information and included that in our goal-setting.

“And then we also … said, ‘OK, where are (the school’s) holes, what are we worried about based on how all our kids are doing? What does our teacher pool look like? What does our educational assistant pool look like? Are we representative of our students?’ and what we found is that that was a concern for us.”

When it comes to EDI plans, Bare added, best practices tended to break down the strategy into the four broad categories adopted by Ashland High. From there, however, the EDI committee adapted the plan to fit its own school.

“So within those,” Bare said, “we looked at our own community and our own needs and said, ‘OK, in this area, what are the primary things that we want to make sure and address as part of this plan?”

When it came to partnering with OSF and SOU, Bare added, no begging was required.

“This is such an important community issue,” she said. “These are really strong community partners for us and we know that when these three big organizations — the school district, the Shakespeare Festival and the university — are working together we can do amazing things, so they jumped right in.”

Eva Skuratowicz, the vice chair of the Ashland School Board and the director of the SOU Research Center, said she would love to roll out the plan district wide, but isn’t sure how long that will take.

What really caught Skuratowicz’s eye, however, was the plan’s built-in accountability, an element she believes is essential to the plan’s ultimate success.

“I think one of the things for me is I’m really impressed with all of the thoughtful work that went into it, and I’m really pleased that community partners like OSF and SOU helped to guide the process,” she said. “As a researcher, I have to say that for me, the fact that there’s a results-based accountability measure for each one of those goals makes it a really strong initiative. I think that’s great because it requires that outcomes are measured, and if it’s not effective then they have to revisit the goal. And that’s incredibly important with an initiative like this.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 . Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99

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