Students and teachers in the Richardson ISD go back to school Wednesday morning.
The school year, which will start with all classes online, begins with a commitment to address what the district acknowledges are issues of racism.
“We will remove systemic racism within the halls, playgrounds, classrooms and all of the places and spaces that encompass Richardson ISD, and we will do this for our 39,000 students," Superintendent Jeannie Stone, Ph.D., said in a video posted following a meeting with past and current students in June. "They deserve this work from us.”
Stone listened as the students described incidents of systemic racism and demands for change.
Days later, at the urging of Stone, the board of trustees passed a resolution acknowledging racism and a commitment to dismantle it.
"One thing that Dr. Stone has made clear is that she doesn't want take our demands and sell it as an endeavor and strive for education to make her look better to her following," Richardson ISD alum Osadolor Osawemwenze said. "This isn't a savior complex situation. Dr. Stone didn't give us our voice. She didn't give us our drive for change. She didn't provide us hope. She gave us a microphone."
Osawemwenze was of the students who organized the meeting with Stone.
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“How can you not tune into and hear the hearts of your students?,” Angie Lee, the director of the district’s Department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, said.
Lee, a 20-year educator in the district, leads the department that started in 2018. Other actions followed.
In 2019, the board adopted an equity, diversion and inclusion policy that vows to "establish a framework to eliminate any bias, prejudice, or unlawful discrimination that may affect student achievement and learning experiences and to promote learning and working environments that welcome, respect, and value equity, diversity, and inclusion."
And now in 2020, the resolution calling for the board and superintendent to "stand in unity committed to be part of the solution to dismantle institutional racism on behalf of the students and staff we serve and the community in which we all live" and gave approval for a new Racial Equity Committee.
Now as a new school year starts, Lee and her team are busy with new initiatives intended to bring the change the district seeks; the change demanded by the students who met with the superintendent.
“The time is now,” Lee said. “The students helped us press even more into some initiatives we were brainstorming and planning out."
The plan for August includes:
- Professional learning for teachers on how to be a culturally responsive educator
- Racial literacy lessons in all grades so students can learn about racial relations and teachers will have the opportunity to have the discussions
“It's a huge initiative, thinking about one to two times a week, per campus, teachers really delving into racial literacy with their students,” Lee said. The district "brought on some fantastic teachers to really help us look at what can a racial literacy curriculum look like for us? And so we're excited to bring that on, day one."
In September, the new Racial Equity Committee gets to work.
"We have about 150 people at this point, students, staff, parents and community members who want to do this work with us and help move the district forward," Lee said.
The work, Lee said, could include a review of curriculum and hiring practices. “We all know representation matters, so how do we hire a more diverse staff?” Lee said.
October will bring a district-wide anti-racism campaign to change behavior.
“Our tag line will be acknowledge it, learn about it, talk about it, dismantle it,” Lee explained.
Also this year, every campus will have an equity liasoin and a team to share messaging and get ahead of issues.
"Once those equity teams are in place, they can identify the inequities on their campus and as a team start building campaigns, coming up with their pathway to equity plan," Lee explained.
“It’s a long road ahead of us but we're heading in the right direction,” she said.
Lee credits Dr. Stone for leading the charge toward change, and as Stone talked about her in virtual convocation speech, getting there “brick by brick.”
“Brick by brick, things can be taken apart and can be taken down and something better can be built in its place. Brick by brick will replace bias and prejudice with acceptance and love,” Stone said.
In an interview with NBC5 in July, Stone said even in a year of challenges brought on by coronavirus and virtual learning, her priority will be to build a district where "all means all."