The perceived shortcomings of the Park Hill School District have led to the creation of new “drivers” that, in the eyes of many, better encompass the district’s aspirations and expectations of building a more inclusive environment.
Many factors influenced the district’s move to start a conversation about diversity, but one of the most influential factors occurred last year when school officials determined that a racist petition had been spread around, drawing substantial criticism.
Co-chairs of the Park Hill School District’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Advisory Council identified six statements of aspirations, the council identifies as “drivers,” and their corresponding “narrative statements” during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.
DEIB Council was first founded in the fall of 2021 when the district entered into a partnership with Sophic Solutions. The Council is made up of staff, parents, community members, and board members. An open dialogue on what the Park Hill School District should “start, stop, continue and consider” when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging first transpired in January when the district hosted two online forums. During these community forums, the district received 750 pieces of feedback.
Advisory Council Co-Chairs Dr. Terri Deayon and Dr. Danny Todtfeld took to the podium to share what the DEIB Council has been working on over the past eight months. Their presentation identified actionable steps that include what the Park Hill Community aspires to do as a district based on what people shared in the forum.
“We really wanted to make sure that the words we chose mirrored what the community said. It wasn’t our voice. We were using the communities input to put it down on paper,” said Co-Chair Todtfeld about the statements of aspirations.
Director of Access, Inclusion, and Family Engagement Dr. Deayon said, “At the beginning of this journey, we had a challenging year last year, there’s no doubt. And we were publicly criticized because we said we were going to listen. And I remember that.”
“There were all kinds of people saying, ‘Oh you’re going to listen. Oh, you’re just going to listen.’ I kept thinking of course we are going to listen. We have to listen. So, I hope that if nothing else you will see and will continue to pick up on the fact that we listen intentionally, we listened strategically, and we listened actively engaged because we wanted to hear the voices and the experiences of those people in the community whether they be staff members, students, community members or parents.”
Many observers also questioned whether the district was going to take any actionable measures in the aftermath of last year’s incident.
Dr. Deayon said “we heard the community but in the long run, the goal was to act and carry out new ‘drivers’ based on the sentiment of what the Park Hill Community expressed.”
Dr. Deayon and Dr. Todtfeld took turns discussing each new driver and narrative statement, included here:
“As we work toward building successful futures…each student…everyday the Park Hill School District commits to…
·Driver 1: creating safe and welcoming spaces
“We will create a place where all people feel safe and valued for who they are by promoting welcoming spaces and practicing inclusivity in all actions.”
·Driver 2: cultivate meaningful connections
“We commit to cultivating meaningful connections by engaging all stakeholders in DEIB work to increase trust and community involvement.”
·Driver 3: expect accountability
“We will create a culture of accountability through restorative practices, including repairing hurt/harm/damage, engaging in uncomfortable conversations, learning from, and addressing our mistakes.”
·Driver 4: ensure inclusive representations
“We will ensure representation with intentional and meaningful DEIB practices in our workforce, curriculum, and programming so they mirror the communities we serve.”
·Driver 5: engage in purposeful learning and conversations
“We will engage in purposeful learning and conversations, measure our progress, and help each other as we build a more inclusive Park Hill Community.”
·Driver 6: share our stories and be clear in our communications
“We will honor the stories of our Park Hill Community and promote our commitment to DEIB practices by clearly communicating our successes and learning opportunities.”
Dr. Deayon said many of these drivers and narratives will become a part of the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP), which is actively undergoing a re-write.
Board member Shereka Barnes said she realizes Dr. Deayon received a lot of pushback for the amount of time it took to get to this point in the process.
“It’s nice to see where it is at this point and at this stage, and where we are going in the future,” said Barnes.
Board member Daryl Terwilleger said, “All the puzzle pieces are there and now we just need to put it together and sign it.”
Board member Brandy Woodley said she is happy to see everyone come together to work on a shared goal.
“Thank you for all of your hard work. I just can’t say enough how excited I am about the work going forward and the hope that has filled not just this room, but outside, as well, in the community,” said Woodley.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Kimbrel said the Board of Education will vote on whether to adopt these drivers at their next regularly scheduled meeting.
Also Thursday night:
•Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paul Kelly reminded the Board of Education of their annual requirement to set the tax levy following a public hearing on Aug. 25. Dr. Kelly acknowledged that he had budgeted a 3 ½ increase in assessed valuation last year, but there was only a 2.6 percent increase.
“But the authority that voters gave us this year allows us to make up the effects of the significant drop in the operating tax rate from last year,” he said.
Dr. Kelly recommended the board keep the total tax rate of $5.3955.