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Also discussed: student school board representatives and Gun Violence Awareness Day

PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Members of the DEI Committee at Monday's meeting. From left: Emma Burke, David Salerno Owens, Ebony Clarke, Charu Nair and Becky Owens.The Lake Oswego School Board made a historic decision at Monday's meeting, adopting the district's first ever equity policy June 3. The policy was put forth thanks to the hard work of the district's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, formed in August 2018.

The committee was created to examine the district's strategic plan and identify places for improvement. Members looked at data and best practices from peer districts, and audited district policies through an equity lens in search of ways to embed equity into curriculum and practice.

"This was a daunting task," said DEI Committee co-chair Ebony Clarke at the board meeting. "I know that we all can think back to our first meeting, the 22 folks that were at the table." Nearly a year later, Clarke said she continues to be grateful, honored and impressed with everyone on the committee.

The DEI Committee has been guided in their work by David Salerno Owens, the LOSD's director of equity and strategic initiatives, and has been meeting monthly to discuss how to improve district experiences for people of color, those with disabilities and other minority groups in Lake Oswego.

The Equity Policy touches on all aspects of school district operations, including hiring practices. The plan reads: "The district shall actively recruit, employ, support, and retain a workforce of ethnic/racial, gender and linguistic diversity with the goal to have the teacher and administrative workforce reflect the diversity of the student body. In an effort to recruit and retain, the district will

support culturally responsive and relevant administrative, instructional and support personnel."

On increasing equity in the curriculum, the DEI committee advised: "The district shall provide materials and assessments that reflect the diversity of students and staff and are geared toward the understanding and appreciation of culture, class, language, ethnicity, poverty, ability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other differences that contribute to the uniqueness of each student and staff member."

The plan also sets a goal of increasing pathways to academic success" in order to meet the needs of the diverse student body and shall actively encourage, support and expect high academic achievement for each student."

On Monday, school board members enthusiastically and unanimously approved the policy. School board member Rob Wagner attended nearly every DEI Committee meeting. "It's been fun having a seat at the table, and continually pushing myself back from the table and listening," he said. "The policy is great, but what's most important for me are the accountability pieces that are embedded into it. Policy is only as good as we execute it."

School board chair Bob Barman also attended committee meetings, and witnessed firsthand the difficulty of their task. "It was messy and it was very emotional. It's very complex, but it's necessary," he said. "Some people don't like to get into the messiness, but sometimes you just have to."

School board student representative Penelope Spurr said that the work the DEI Committee has been doing has had a positive effect on her peers. "This is something that has become so much larger than just a board initiative or a committee. I've seen this personally become an incredible movement in the community. To see it reflected in the student body, 'promising' is an understatement," Spurr said. "It's inspiring for me to see as a representative, to know that it's made its way to the students that will be affected by it. To see them aware, and able to reflect the vision that's outlined in this policy, that is inspiring to me."

Also on Monday

The Equity Policy was not the only major step taken at Monday's board meeting. This was the last meeting for Spurr and her fellow student representative Anna-Marie Guenther. The pair were the first student representatives to the school board, and received high praise from school board members.

"I knew we were going to hear from students, but I had no idea the wisdom and insight you would bring," Barman said to Guenther and Spurr. "I can't imagine the heights you two are going to go. You have such bright futures, and I'm so excited to have had you on the board. Thank you so much for your year of service."

Guenther and Spurr's successors were also announced: Ruofeng "Charlie" Liu was named as the representative for Lake Oswego High School, and Eli Counce will represent Lakeridge High School.

"We had outstanding applicants," wrote LOHS principal Rollin Dickinson in his endorsement of Liu. "What a privilege to speak with them all and to have them as active student leaders at our school and in our district and community."

Lakeridge principal Desiree Fisher said it was an honor to recommend Counce to the board.

"Eli distinguishes himself as a positive leader amongst his peers. In addition, Eli is a problem solver and a fantastic communicator with his classmates and adults," she said. "We are confident he is committed to the task at hand and dedicated to giving voice to the students of this district."

Counce, like Spurr, is involved in Students For Change, the student-led grassroots organization dedicated to preventing gun violence and protecting student safety. On Monday night, the board heard from Counce and representatives from Moms Demand Action, a national gun safety organization.

"What we really need is for kids to feel safe at school, especially in the face of gun violence," Counce said. "The reality is school safety is absolutely necessary for higher level learning to occur."


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