The Chagrin schools’ DEIJ Task Force is focused on meaningful change with plans to continue better implementation of equity within the district over the next few years.

Superintendent Robert Hunt presented an update of the new committee on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice to the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Board of Education during a virtual Nov. 18 meeting. In his presentation, he emphasized the importance of the development of the committee, in partnership with the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, stating now is the right time for such a mission.

“Our goals are to collaboratively develop a vision in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice for our school district. And then, more than that, identify and establish clear, measurable actions that we can implement over the course of the next three years toward the attainment of that vision,” he said. “It’s really a conversation about what are our strengths and where are we at and where is that gap and what are we going to do in the next three years to make progress.”

Dr. Hunt said the task force includes four subcommittees, including a group for students, parents, educators and the school and leaders. He said these subcommittees will do the “brunt of the work” by breaking off into their respective groups to complete work toward the inclusive initiative. Then they will come together for monthly task force meetings.

“It really is representative of our entire school [and] community,” Dr. Hunt said, showing an extensive list of between 15 and 35 individuals per subcommittee. He said 70 people had volunteered to be a part of this initiative.

“Their job is to really represent [the] shared experience of the representatives, of the stakeholders, gather data on experiences of the members of the group and really guide the work as we create that vision as a first activity,” he said of the subcommittee work. He added that this will be the work taking place over the next two months.

Dr. Hunt also provided an update on the task force’s first two meetings. The first meeting, he said, included a get-to-know-you discussion as well as differentiating between diversity terms, like equality, providing the same opportunities for everyone, versus equity, providing proportional representation based on need, and how it applies to underserved populations.

The second meeting kicked off with a superintendent from New York, Luvelle Brown, who will be stepping away from his educational work to focus on the national implementation of diversity in schools nationwide.

“I asked [Dr. Brown] to come in and really kick off our group and hopefully inject some energy, because he has a ton of passion on this, as well as hit on the importance of this conversation, but also the courage it takes to do this right,” Dr. Hunt said, adding that Dr. Brown will help implement educational staff diversity training. “You can have this on a very high, superficial level. Maybe put a few things in place or say they are in place and move on. We’ve tried to commit as a group that this is going to be meaningful – and probably difficult. And for that to happen, this will be a committee that’s going to be in place for a significant period of time.”

Dr. Hunt said the committee is working through what is called appreciative inquiry, which includes focusing on what the district is doing well and how it can expand on this.

“A little more on what that process looks like,” he said, “you define and you affirm what our topic is and what our center of our work would be. The next phase of that is discovery, which is understanding what is currently in place. What do we appreciate and what are our strengths? That’s the next thing that we’re going to start doing with our groups.

“Then, it’s just imagining what our vision could be for our school district,” he continued, “and then designing things that will move us in that direction to eventually reach destiny. It’s this circular process that we are constantly going through to improve.”

Board member Kathryn Garvey, who is also a board representative on the task force, said the district is off to a great start to making meaningful action in the district’s mission for diversity and inclusion.

“It’s going to require some growth and some conversations and change that will probably be slow, but very deliberate,” she said. “I think we’re off to a great start, and I look forward to seeing where this takes us in the next few months.”

Board member Sharon Broz recommended the task force include a wider reach of the community to encourage a stronger pool of diversity.

“I believe we’re going to need to bring the wider community along outside of our district to really achieve the change that we’re seeking,” she said, recommending incorporating council members, mayors or local organization leaders.

Dr. Hunt said he would relay the feedback to the task force, adding that the subcommittees are expected to do just this as part of their training to expand their groups.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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