BRUNSWICK — Brunswick school officials kicked off a long-term diversity and equity initiative last week with a presentation by Dr. Luvelle Brown, a nationally recognized speaker and superintendent who will help guide the department through what he said would be a difficult but important process. 

Brown, the superintendent of Ithaca City School District in New York and recent host of Equity Talks, a webinar series in partnership with Discovery Education, is asking the school department and school board to launch what he calls an “authentic” approach, rather than an academic one. 

In July, Brunswick Superintendent Philip Potenziano announced plans to “bring a greater focus on equity and social justice” in the district and launched the districtwide campaign.
Brown told the school board on Wednesday that he wants the committee to not focus on conferences, books and articles, but instead be self-reflective, look at conflict and how to combat it and reflect that in policy changes. 

Brown defines equity as “reducing the predictability of who succeeds and who fails, interrupting reproductive practices that negatively impact diverse students in school settings (and) cultivating the unique gifts and talents of every student.” 

“We have to be careful how we define diversity,” he added.  “It’s not just Black people. Every school has a population not getting properly served and you have to look no further than who’s getting sent to the principal’s office.” 

“The inequalities aren’t a bug in our systems,” he said. “They’re features.” The process won’t be a “love fest,” he warned. “It’s hard, it’s messy. … A culture of love is going to take time and is going to push us to recognize our blind spots.” 

It will not be a “check-the-box” approach, Potenziano added, and will be more “reflective,” despite the natural inclination to tackle large problems with small, easy to accomplish steps. 

“Changing culture and climate takes a long time and it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I really feel like this ‘authentic’ journey is so important.”

On Friday, the school department announced the 36 core and at-large members of the steering committee, made up of administrators, teachers, parents, students and community members. The goal, according to Potenziano, is to “help school leaders and community members foster cultural responsiveness and inclusion in school environments.”

Initially, this group will focus on addressing implicit bias and white supremacy culture in schools, recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, evaluating and changing board policy and procedures and evaluating instructional practices, curriculum and assessment. 

Brown and Potenziano will facilitate the meetings, which for now will be virtual.

It’s not ideal, Potenziano admitted, and in a normal situation they would be able to spend several hours together and dive deeper into the issues, but for now it’s “a great start on a longer range journey.”  

The committee will make recommendations based on best practices and data— including diversity metrics within the district, but also at graduation rates, enrollment of gifted and talented students, participation in extracurriculars and others. These same metrics and data points can also be used to help measure the department’s progress. 

The Brunswick schools’ strategic framework for 2016-2021 “illustrates a commitment to equity that has been embedded into the district’s mission,” Potenziano said when he announced the initiative in July, but it is “clear that we as a school district must elevate and bolster this commitment. … There are many layers to our opportunity to create real change, and they all require deep reflection.”

Aside from the steering committee’s work, the school administration also will work with the Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants to take the Intercultural Development Inventory, the “premier instrument used nationally and internationally to measure a group’s and individual’s abilities (skillsets and mindsets) to bridge effectively across cultural differences so as to create an inclusive school environment,” he said.

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