IDE Coordinators Mike Baughman and Michelle Simpson take the time to answer important questions about the district's Inclusiveness, Diversity and Equity initiative.
What is the IDE initiative?
Inclusiveness, diversity and equity focuses on identifying and removing barriers that are placed upon marginalized and underserved groups of people. The students that we serve come to us with many different life experiences and challenges, and may view the world through different lenses. Our ultimate goal is to increase our capacity as a district to be able to remove these barriers for our students and their families. Our work is really all-encompassing, and will help to support and empower students regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language ability, disability, mental health diagnoses and other identities. It is important for everyone to know that equity addresses all of these topics, not just one or a few.
Who oversees the initiative?
*District Human Resources Director Michelle Simpson and Bellefonte Area Middle School Vice Principal Mike Baughman coordinate the district committee.
We are working to help expand current efforts as a district. We have an awesome group of core people from all levels and all buildings at Bellefonte Area School District to help us. Their support, feedback and hard work has been invaluable to us. Ultimately, we all report to our superintendent for final direction. (Interim Superintendent) Mrs. (Tammie) Burnaford has been extremely supportive of our work and is willing to help however she can.
Who makes up the committee?
The IDE committee consists of administrators, members of the board of school directors, and both professional and support staff from all levels and all district buildings. Expanding our committee to include students and community members is very important to us, however, it is part of a process and may not happen right away. We are intentional about making sure that we are growing at a sustainable rate and not rushing into anything that we are not ready for.
What makes you right to help lead this campaign?
We are both passionate about this topic and share an interest in working to improve the way we support all of the members of our school community. We are not experts and will not claim to be, but are excited to grow and willing to learn along with committee members.
Why is this work important for our schools and community?
These are important topics for a lot of reasons. Most notably, we need to be able to provide all of our students and adults with an environment that allows them to feel supported and have their individual needs met. Additionally, information and news about topics such as poverty, mental illness, race and so on come to us from a lot of sources like social media and politics. Information from these sources is not always helpful or accurate. As a school system, being able to provide education in these areas will help to develop an accurate understanding of these topics. In doing so, we will produce empathetic students who are culturally sensitive and able to understand these matters from different perspectives.
Are there any misconceptions?
There can be many misconceptions about these topics, most of which come from a lack of understanding about what equity and diversity truly mean. One of the most common misconceptions is that movements to address equity and diversity are trying to push one side of a political agenda, and this could not be further from the truth. Our committee and the work we do is strictly and very intentionally nonpartisan and nonpolitical. We are focused on meeting the different needs of our students and creating an educational system that works to remove barriers and all forms of bias and racism. The best interest of all of our students is not a political issue. As with anything, it’s important to ask questions and look for information from quality, fact-based sources if you have questions.
When was the initiative created?
This particular initiative emerged this summer when Mr. Baughman presented the desire to work on a curriculum review relating to equity and diversity, and it expanded from there. The groundwork for equity in general was in place already as equity began to emerge nationally and Dr. Saylor provided professional learning opportunities for all district staff, and updated policies. The board of school directors supported taking the next step and identified this as a goal for the district. This is not new work for the district; we are just taking the necessary next steps to move forward.
How does the district plan to work with employees to help bring them a better understanding of these issues?
The district will offer a variety of professional learning opportunities for employees multiple times each year during our professional learning days. The morning of our February professional learning day will focus completely on inclusiveness, diversity and equity. Our committee is also working to provide additional opportunities for the employees of our district throughout the school year. A group of teachers are participating in an anti-racist book club led by members of our committee. We’ve also worked on plans for a 21 Day Equity Challenge. Plans are also in place to develop a platform for staff to be able to guide learning independently.
What resources is the district using to help make the IDE initiative a success?
Dr. (Seria) Chatters, the director of equity and inclusivity at State College Area School District, has been a huge help for us starting off. She has helped us build multiple connections with true experts in this field at Penn State and within our community, some of which have already offered professional learning sessions for us. We are also participating in a Centre County equity workgroup comprised of members from schools across the county. The more that we can rely on experts and bring in multiple perspectives to help our district grow, the more meaningful our work will be.
Where do you see this going in the future?
This is work that will be ongoing; there is no end in sight. Ultimately, we are working towards a culture shift to one of mutual respect where individuals can freely express themselves and have equitable access to resources and support. We hope to be able to bring our district to a place where we look at all systems and practices through an equity lens and remove systematic barriers that may exist. It’s going to be a lot of work and a continual learning process, but it’s our responsibility to our students to continue to learn and improve the way we address these issues.