Stemming from the conversations held during the district’s five town hall meetings, the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) has created a second diversity coordinator position to assist in generating progress on the platforms of diversity and equity. This week, the district announced Mikela Thomas has been selected to fill the full-time position alongside current diversity coordinator Heather Cole.
Thomas is no stranger to education, having spent the past 14 years as an educator. Most recently, she served as a first grade teacher at Cheshire Elementary and has spent a total of 11 years teaching in the district. During her time at Cheshire Elementary, she also served as the diversity liaison for five years. While the decision to transition into a new role didn’t come easy for Thomas, the opportunity to have an even larger impact in the district was something she couldn’t pass on.
“It is hard to leave my students, but when I had the opportunity to cast a wider net and reach more people, I had to do it,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely something that I am truly passionate about.”
Asked to define the role of diversity coordinator, Thomas said, “We do different activities with the students, we have programming like Global Scholars and things like that. We also work with the teachers on professional development and training. We do our One Community conference, and we’ll continue doing those things.”
In addition to the existing role of the position, Thomas said they are also beginning work on the district’s “action plan” in response to the ideas expressed during the town halls. That plan includes recruitment and retention initiatives, she said, as well as a new leadership advisory council and work with various groups in the community, among other focuses.
Thomas said the sheer size of the district calls for “all hands on deck” in tackling issues of diversity and inclusion within OLSD, which necessitated a full-time position focused solely on doing just that. Now that she’s been identified as the woman to help lead that charge, she wants her position to represent an olive branch of sorts for those who have expressed issues and concerns and are looking for hope and healing.
“I think this position is kind of showing that the district is open to that and open to healing our district,” Thomas said. “And also to have the diversity initiative be at the forefront and be an important part of our curriculum construction and planning … This position, I’m hoping, will rebuild that trust.”
Holding five town hall meetings centered on diversity brought on, naturally, diverse participants with a multitude of ideas to facilitate the necessary change within the district. Thomas, whose family has spent decades in the district, has seen and lived her own truths with regard to diversity issues in OLSD over the years, and her own ideas for creating change begin with transparency and collaboration between the district and the community.
“Some people feel like the district may not be doing enough or that we’re not doing anything,” Thomas said. “I think there needs to be transparency and communication that we are doing a lot in our building and we have this three- to five-year action plan that we’re working on, which came out of the town halls and ideas from the community members.”
Of course, changes within the district will have to come gradually as it continues to evolve and adapt moving forward. Thomas said the ultimate measure of success for the district, to her, boils down to whether or not the students feel there has been marked improvements.
“For me, it’s all about the kids,” she said. “I feel like two years from now, if they were to create a ‘DearOLSD 2.0,’ it could be how their experiences have changed … We want our students to be in a safe place where they can learn and the instruction is meeting their needs, regardless of who they are or where they come from. That’s how I would measure success. Talking to the kids, seeing if they see a change, if they feel comfortable in their environment, and if they feel like their district has delivered on meeting their needs.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.