HUDSON -- George Floyd's death has sparked deeper conversations for the Hudson School District about equity, Superintendent Nick Ouellette said. Those discussions were brought to the board at a special meeting Monday, June 29.
“It’s one thing to provide lip service, it’s another thing to do actionable things,” Ouellette said.
District administrators will bring the issue of equity back to the board at its Sept. 14 meeting, with possible action items.
Floyd died May 25 while in police custody; for four Minneapolis officers face charges.
Chief of Schools Officer Erin Schiltgen said the district is analyzing its data to see where gaps are, looking at achievement, behavior and more. The focus on how many students have a sense of belonging has been impactful, she said.
Schiltgen said she’s proud of how counselors responded, sending out resources to families about how to talk about race and organizing book studies for staff.
“Lots of work to be done, but proud of the work we’re doing,” she said.
With curriculum, Chief Academic Officer Dave Grambow said the district has done a lot of good informally, and now needs to formalize those actions. When designing learning experiences, Grambow said they need to consider a multicultural perspective.
“It’s really important that all our students see themselves reflected in the learning experiences, in the curriculum, in the books and the resources,” he said.
Hudson has a phenomenon called masking inequities, Grambow said, which means marginalized students and existing inequities are often lost in the overall success.
Social studies is one area to address. Grambow said they need to get beyond studying African American history only during Black History Month or on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Board member Heather Logelin said even a well-intentioned and well-read group of white people can’t and shouldn’t be the ones making this decision, and questioned how the district can engage with students and families of color to bring their voices into the discussion.
Ouellette said they have to be more intentional about engaging those groups.
The administration has considered having an equity audit, where someone would come in to look at the district and find its blind spots. Leaders have also discussed hiring a coordinator position, as the district does not currently have someone who is the point person. The district has also considered reaching out across the river to diverse organizations.
“Having people help us have conversations, that’s more valuable than just our group of 20 or 30 people that is pretty homogeneous in nature,” Ouellette said.
Another point of consideration is how the district recruits more candidates of color. That is another thing the district needs to be more intentional about, Ouellette said.
Chief Human Resources Officer Andrea Voelker said the district has to change its lens to seek out more diversity and have staff that is more representative of the student population.
The universities that Hudson has connections with, such as the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire, do not have the best diversity in their education area, Voelker said. The district can make that extra effort to reach out to different schools to develop those connections.
While hiring is important, Board member Rob Brown asked how staff can help the existing population who don’t feel connected.
Schiltgen said some of the process is professional development so staff can recognize that biases exist. Staff currently have varying levels of understanding.
Board President Jamie Johnson said he attended the Black Lives Matter march in Hudson, and heard speakers tell stories that did not reflect well on the district. He asked what avenues students have to report issues and have them investigated promptly.
Board member Carrie Whitacre said this focus will benefit all of the district’s students.
“Yes we’re talking 12% of our student population, but it’s about making 90% of our population more compassionate,” she said.
Schiltgen said the district has avenues, but they need to clarify with students what those are and who they go to. Voelker said the changes the board has been working on over the last year make the policies more accessible and more defined.
Johnson said he’d like to see this issue regularly on the board's working and action agendas, and a time frame set to move forward.
Logelin said she wants to be sure students of color and their families are engaged first, so the district knows what they think it should be working on.
Ouellette said they could have a plan in place for the September meeting about the best way to hear from kids and the community. Ahead of that, administration will be interacting with leaders from different communities to understand who should be at the table and what actions may look like.