Following a series of five town hall meetings last summer to address diversity and inclusion in the district, the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) has been hard at work in creating an equity and inclusion action plan. During last week’s Olentangy Board of Education meeting, Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion Jackie Merkle provided an update on the district’s progress.
The plan’s purpose is “intended to guide the diversity, equity, and inclusion work of the district over the next three to five years,” Merkle said during the meeting. “The goals within the plan support our strategic objective of promoting a culture of inclusive excellence in our schools.”
In order to promote such a culture, Merkle said the district is charged with “ensuring the educational environment is free from bias and discrimination while affirming the rich diversity of our community.”
Approved by the district in December 2020, the action plan includes a total of 32 goals spread throughout five “drivers of change.” Those drivers are measurement and accountability, policy and handbook, recruitment and retention, training and education, and stakeholder engagement. The goals were formed as a result of feedback received through a variety of meetings that included students, alumni, parents, teachers and community members.
The board’s approval of the action plan marked the first step in the measurement and accountability driver. Other goals within the driver have included the creation of a rubric to vet the district’s digital resources. The rubric incorporates a “hard stop” for any resources that include stereotypes and bias, Merkle said.
In addition to the focus on digital resources, the curriculum team donated $1,000 to all K-12 libraries for the purchase of diverse media titles. “These new titles will be another step forward in ensuring all of our media centers are representative of the students we serve,” Merkle said.
The second driver — recruitments and retention — has included professional development on mitigating implicit bias in the hiring process, which was attended by 113 members of the district. Merkle said professional development is something the district is going to continue to grow on each year.
An equity and inclusion team member was also part of the hiring panel for the principal of the district’s newest elementary, Shale Meadows, which is set to open next school year. A member of the team will be on the panel for every principal interviewing process moving forward.
Other progressions in the action plan have included a slew of educational sessions, such as a “Teaching Black History” conference, bullying and harassment modules, and modules on the sense of belonging and anti-racism.
To keep stakeholders in the district engaged on the action plan and its progress, an equity and inclusion community newsletter was started in October 2020 and is sent to 41,000 families across the district. Among other measures, the district has continued the High School Student Leadership Advisory Council, which Merkle said allows the district to “have a forum with the most needed and urgent voices — those of our students.”
“Our goal is that the learning that students experience as a part of the group, such as strategies for how to disrupt and interrupt racism and discrimination, will be taken back into the buildings from the student leaders to help impact culture,” Merkle stated.
As for what’s to come in the plan, Merkle said some of the upcoming action items include conducting a thorough and comprehensive equity and inclusion audit, reviewing the discipline policy to determine best practices, and working with the curriculum team “to ensure an accurate and inclusive curriculum for all students, PreK-12.”
Full details of the action plan can be found by accessing the equity and inclusion page, located on the district’s website at www.olentangy.k12.oh.us.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.