District 203 plans measures to improve cultural sensitivity and equity

Updated 6/14/2019 4:04 PM

School board leaders and administrators know reflecting the growing diversity of the district's population is not yet a strong suit in Naperville Unit District 203.

Board President Kristin Fitzgerald, for example, calls it "an area for growth."


So officials are taking at least two actions this year to improve cultural sensitivity, inclusion and equity.

The district plans to review its curriculum with the help of a federally funded institute at Indiana University and find better ways to ensure equity with the help of a firm with expertise in the field.

The district plans to spend $87,000 on these two efforts in its 2019-20 budget, which board members are expected to approve Monday night.

The curriculum review will be conducted with the Great Lakes Equity Center at Indiana University, said Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion.

Experts from the equity center will train district staff members to look for ways the activities, supplemental information and support provided with each lesson can better be "responsive to the cultural needs and sensitive to the diverse needs of our student population," Leaks said.

This matters because parents like Keri King, a leader of the SUCCESS parent organization that supports black and minority students, want to see more lessons about other cultures or religions, such as what it means to be black in today's society or what the holy time of Ramadan means for Muslims.

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"The focus needs to be on examining other cultures and making sure our children understand that they are global citizens, they have a responsibility as global citizens to understand other cultures," King said.

Cultural inclusion also is important because it's proven valuable for academic success, Fitzgerald said.

"If you look at research, reading scores improve when you incorporate students' cultural and linguistic knowledge in your teaching practice," she said.

Funding of $10,000 for the curriculum review will pay for experts from the equity center to travel to Naperville and work with staff members so they can assess and improve the diversity of their own curriculum going forward.

"We are fortunate that we get a high level of support to help us with this work," Leaks said.

The majority of the planned diversity-focused spending will pay for a school leadership series led by a company called Deep Equity. Leaks said the goal is for school leaders to examine their behaviors, as well as their processes such as recruiting or applicant tracking, for ways they may unfairly affect certain groups.


"It provides an opportunity for district staff to be reflective of themselves," Leaks said.

The leadership series is expected to help identify areas of implicit bias or ways to improve anything from policies and procedures to the "mindset or the culture of the district itself," said Leaks, who began her work with District 203 last year.

Fitzgerald said the $77,000 leadership series is about finding ways to improve any "systemic inequities" the experts from Deep Equity might find.

"I'm very excited at the broad lens because I think that's what's necessary," she said.

King sees the work as necessary, too, because she said the district should achieve "a level of balance" between the backgrounds of its student and teacher populations.

According to state Report Card data, District 203's student population of 16,650 is 63% white, 16.8% Asian, 10.6% Hispanic, 4.9% black and 4.7% two or more races, Pacific islander or American Indian. The district's 1,090-person teaching staff, meanwhile, is 92.4% white, 2% Asian, 3.8% Hispanic, 1.5% black and 0.3% two or more races, with no teachers reporting a heritage as a Pacific islander or American Indian.

"In terms of the staff and the administration reflecting the people that they serve, no, we're not there," King said. "That in itself speaks volumes."

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