Audit needed before DEI position is funded


To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that the budget presentation made to the All-Island School Committee (AISC) on Dec. 2 showed a deletion of $30,000 for a diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) position. One could infer that such a position existed, or had been voted upon and was being deleted. Such is not the case.

Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith, who in the Nov. 4 budget discussions initially requested a .3 DEI position, explained during the Dec. 2 meeting that he was withdrawing that request. In its place, he was requesting a professional audit related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, to lay the basis for eventually implementing a DEI program. This professional assessment would include follow-up strategies designed specifically for the unique issues of our Island school cultures and communities. We believe that a future DEI person will have much greater success with this interim step.

Prior to the Dec. 2 meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition (MVDC) education committee presented a statement to the AISC supporting a DEI program.

The following are excerpts from the statement: 

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe policies and programs that advance the representation and participation of different groups of individuals, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, and religious or ethical values systems.

We believe that Island schools and teachers act with the best of intentions for their schools and communities. As the Island’s student population is growing increasingly diverse in every way, it is incumbent upon us to determine where we are on the DEI spectrum. A successful unbiased audit/needs assessment, using internal and external data, will assist the schools in: identifying and addressing obstacles to each student, family, and staff member receiving what they need to be successful.

“Using the results of such an audit to celebrate strengths, identify key areas of concern and needs, and develop a prioritized improvement plan to enhance each school’s culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Determining the need and scope of a DEI professional whose role will include educationally and emotionally supporting students, building on the strengths of the community, and unifying and supporting teachers during this extremely challenging time in education.

“For DEI programs to be effective and long-lasting, community members must believe in their power and importance. Successful DEI initiatives and planning require the commitment, focus, and participation of all stakeholders. Opportunities must be provided for staff members, students, parents, and community members to be at the table when schools are making strategic decisions and evaluating their progress. Systemic change does not happen overnight. DEI work requires a long-term, ongoing commitment. Accountability and transparency are key

components in maintaining the support of all constituents, both within and outside of the immediate school community.”

Many of our students are experiencing trauma due to the past few years of distance learning and isolation. This struggle is magnified for our students experiencing racism, discrimination, and exclusion. A well-conducted audit is essential in determining where our Island schools are on the DEI continuum, and we support this first step in creating a more productive and healthy culture for all of our students.

Jocelyn Coleman Walton
Lisa J. Pimentel
Co-chairs, MVDC education committee