South Orangetown Central School District

This month, district administrators participated in a three-day leadership training to further develop their skills in facilitating conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity with Gene Thompson-Grove, a long-time District professional development consultant and founding member of the School Reform Initiative, which provides support to transformational learning communities committed to educational equity.

“Our team appreciated the time to practice our facilitation skills, learn with others from outside our District and further develop our leadership in the area of equity.” said Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services Karen Tesik, Ed.D.

Participants were challenged to examine and reframe their thinking and processes through activities that explored statements, such as:

  • “Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?” Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”
  • Diversity asks, “How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?” Equity responds, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?”
  • Diversity celebrates increases in numbers that still reflect marginalized status…and incremental growth. Equity celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems and increases in supports for people’s life chances as reported by those who have been marginalized.

“It’s important that we understand the role that equity-based opportunities play in the progress and wellbeing of our students as demonstrated in the data we look at. We have been asking–and will continue to ask–not just ‘What story is the data is telling?’ but ‘Whose story is being told?,’ ‘Who is telling the story?’ and ‘Whose story is not being told?’” said Coordinator of Data, Assessment and Accountability Jeanne Corcoran, who plans to use techniques from the training in her work with the District’s Data Inquiry Teams. “I wanted to learn more about how to facilitate conversations about looking more deeply at data and, at the same time, how to see the people who make up the data as more than just data points. This workshop was not just about having difficult conversations about race and equity in education, it was about how to lead those difficult conversations with other adults–and how to meet adults where they are so that they can have a learning experience and growth opportunity that will foster a better learning environment for all our students. We hear a lot right now about systemic racism and equality. These conversations are how we can look at systems in place in our District that may need to be revised, removed or replaced in order to allow all students to access their education and grow to their potential.”

South Orangetown Middle School Assistant Principal Joe Onativia began co-facilitating staff discussions on racism with Principal Chad Corey, Ed.D. in June which will continue into the new school year. “I’m passionate about this work and want to further my own education with regard to equity and what that looks like in schools,” noted Onativia. “I’ve been admitted to the e-Cornell Diversity and Inclusion Certification Program to learn more interventions and strategies to promote diversity, inclusion and equity that I can bring back to our District.”

The District’s work will also require important conversations about the allocation of district resources for the purposes of educational equity. “Equity is critical for all students to succeed. Having worked on educational equity in schools for the past six years as an instructional leader, it was important to me personally and professionally to continue to be part of the conversation,” asserted Director of Financial Services Kleo Girandola. “District resources are meant to support equity for all students. I prepare SOCSD’s ESSA financial transparency report and will review the results with a focus on equity. Accountability systems like this help to promote important conversations about allocation of resources, what we’re doing well, and potential areas of growth.”

“We were asked to approach this training with humility and a willingness to listen,” said Director of Staff Relations Joseph Lloyd, Ph.D. “This was a timely professional development opportunity for our team as we learned how to effectively use video-conferencing technology while facilitating discussions that centered equity. In considering our current circumstances, it has become essential for us to draw upon and lead engaging virtual meetings.”

Expanding Equity is a series of community updates on the status of South Orangetown Central School District’s efforts to promote and support equity.