Diversity discussed at school board candidate forum
The third and final school board candidate forum was held Monday night at United Church of Christ. It was co-hosted by Respond to Racism and LO for LOve, two grassroots organizations dedicated to making the city of Lake Oswego a more welcoming and inclusive place.
The forum was moderated by Lakeridge High School students Anna Marie Guenther and Mya Gordon, who are both involved in equity work in the district.
Board candidates Kirsten Aird, Kelly Calabria and John Wallin answered their questions on a variety of topics centered around themes of diversity, equity and inclusion in the school district.
Aird is running unopposed for Position 5, Calabria is running for Position 1 and Wallin is running as the incumbent for Position 1.
The candidates began by sharing their experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Wallin said that growing up in Oakland, California, he was exposed to a wide variety of races and cultures. "This is what I knew. We played with all kinds of kids. It would be foolish to say that I didn't know that people were different races and had different experiences," Wallin said. "I've seen the variety, and I know it's important to have different experiences."
Aird said that she grew up in Oregon, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia for college so that she could experience a new environment. "I wanted to experience something totally different, and that experience has helped me see the diversity that exists in Oregon," she said. "It has really shaped how I think."
Calabria, who was born and raised in Lake Oswego, said she has seen the city change for the better. "As you all know, our community has become more diverse since 1977," she said. "I'm new to the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) piece of the school board, and look forward to working hard to do a better job for our kids. That starts with empathy."
The candidates were then asked their thoughts on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee created by the school board, and whether they would support its continuation.
"I am super pleased with what the board has done over the last two years," Aird said. "I'm committed to finding ways to prioritize this so they have the resources they need." She also said that their work should be data-driven, and is interested in measuring their success in a tangible way.
Wallin and the other school board members recently received the first draft of an Equity Plan written by the DEI committee. The plan puts forth recommendations relating to equity in hiring practices, curriculum and school environment.
"It's amazing, what these people have written. They are doing great work," Wallin said. "I'm committed to making it a permanent committee. As long as I'm on the board, it has to be a part of our school district."
Calabria said that she supports the committee and hopes it will expand. "We need to bring in our communities, families and businesses. Get them on board with having a growth mindset and moving everybody in the right direction," she said. "I think a lot of what DEI is about doesn't cost anything. It's just an investment in time and education."
Candidates also discussed an October 2018 Special Education Audit commissioned by the district to identify ways to improve its treatment and programming for students with special needs. The audit found that while the LOSD has made strides in supporting students with special needs, there is major room for improvement.
The audit reads: "LOSD has made great efforts to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion and to close achievement gaps. We have also noted that for much of this work, there has not been a focus on how special education services should be involved... There are notable efforts to address students' attendance, behavior, and course performance — all factors that affect academic success —and still, the gap between students with disabilities and students withoutdisabilities exists."
"My main takeaway from the special education audit is that what they recommended is really good for every student," Calabria said. "What I would get done first is bringing in the teachers to make sure they are really on board with the approach — that is, we should be treating each and every kid to make them successful."
Aird, who has stressed the importance of the audit in past forums, said that it should be treated as a general education proposal. "Presuming competence is one of the most important things I got out of that audit. We need to start by knowing they can do it," Aird said, meaning that teachers should not assume kids with special needs are incapable of learning. "If we do it right, everybody wins. (Students) can have awesome grades, but if we do not send them into the world having open minds and a really big heart, we are doing them a disservice."
Wallin said that when considering equity issues, the district must not forget about students with special needs. "We have climate issues with regard to some of our special needs kids. That is something we have to think about in regard to DEI. It's not just race or ethnicity — it's disabilities, sexual orientation, sexual identity and much more. We need to focus on improving academic outcomes for kids with special needs."
The forum also included time for questions from the audience. One question concerned John Wallin's endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that protects reproductive rights through abortion care, birth control and paid parental
"I'm very excited to have this endorsement," Wallin said. "This is a group that supports prevention of sexual violence and comprehensive health education. I sought it out, I met with them and talked about my beliefs. They stand for things that I believe in."
Calabria said she feels "outside politics" have no place in a school board race. "No one reached out to me from NARAL," she said. "I find it surprising that you would be endorsed by that group in a school board election. That's just my opinion."
Ballots for the school board election will be mailed soon. Election day is May 21, and the elected candidates will begin their duties on July 1. For more information on the school board, visit www.losdschools.org/Page/99/.
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