Recent nationwide calls for racial justice are now having a direct impact on education in Groton Public Schools.
"The events really showed us that we have to unite. We have to develop a shared vision," said Jemal Davis, assistant principal at Groton Middle School.
Davis explains that diversity work has been ongoing at GPS for several years, but the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent racial justice protests through out the summer, paired with the inequities exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, spurred the school system to do something more.
“As educators we also recognize that we are in power. We have the ability to dismantle these practices and policies that lead to inequalities," said Davis.
This summer, Groton Public Schools launched their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee, or DEI. The committee aims to create systemic change in the classroom and beyond.
“We need to look at our system and what we have been doing that hurts our students of color and change that," said Kathy Wilson, a member of the committee who works at Groton Middle. “It is time for us to really speak up, make a stand, change policies, and move forward.”
The DEI committee held its first meeting in June. Since then, the committee has ballooned to more than 100 members and eight subcommittees:
- Awareness and Action
- Data Analysis
- Collaboration and Community Relations
- Student Voice
- Recruitment, Hiring, and Retention
- Teaching and Learning
Committee members include teachers, administrators, members of the board of education, students and community members. The DEI committee is hoping to tackle the problem from multiple angles and across all grade levels.
"We are approaching this from a systemic point of view and we feel, by doing that, we are going to establish some sustainability," said Davis. "This is not a one year or a two year and done. This is something that we, as a district, strongly believe in and we are committed to."
The committee developed a five year plan. The first year of the plan focuses on building awareness and becoming informed. Years two and three will be focused on collecting data and positioning DEI as an "agent of change." Years three and four will be spent dismantling systemic practices and policies on a macro level. The plan for year five includes reflection and next steps, according to the 2020 DEI report.
Overall goals focus on developing an equity mindset district-wide. Individual goals range from buying more inclusive books for school libraries, to evaluating the current recruitment and hiring process.
Across Groton Public Schools, about 48% of students are people of color while about 9% of teachers are people of color. The committee has a goal of increasing the number of teachers of color by at least 1% over the next five years.
“We have to have equitable hiring practices," said Davis.
Not only will they focus on recruiting more teachers of color, but they will also evaluate how they can keep the teachers in the school system.
"Recruitment and retention, hand in hand," said Carmita Hodge, who serves on the committee.
They outline other goals such as establishing a non-bias application process, requiring unconscious bias training for anyone serving on a hiring committee and recommitting to an educator pathway to encourage student interest in education.
Senior at Fitch High School, Deja Driscoll-Smith, said that the committee's work is important.
“If we know they are working for it and we know they are putting in the time, we already feel so much more appreciated," said Driscoll-Smith.
Since the committee formed, the board of education has adopted a DEI policy. While acknowledging that the work will not be completed over night, the team said that they are in for the long haul.
"We have been in this district for a long time and we have talked, talked, talked. And now, we are finally doing something about it," said Hodge. "I think better days are ahead for all of us.”