The Saugerties Central School District’s (SCSD) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) met virtually last week, discussing its purpose and goals as it seeks to ensure every student in the district has the opportunity to succeed.
Among the cited goals for the DEI committee are to build a community and common language around equity; to provide a vision of commitment aligning with the district’s overall vision; to assess needs and how to achieve them; to “support a culture of safe, nurturing, and engaging learning environments for ALL;” and to create opportunities for the larger SCSD community to learn from and be involved with the DEI process.
“There’s a lot of amazing work happening (in the district),” said Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt. “Not only is there a ripple effect going from the top down to elementary.”
Reinhardt said that while the committee is comprised of adults, students in the SCSD are also at the fore, including a Cahill Elementary group called Students For Change, which recently made a presentation before a meeting of local school district administrators and students at Saugerties High School.
“The high school students saw how students can make dramatic change in the community,” Reinhardt said. “And I also think the visiting assistant superintendents were extremely impressed with what they saw. The buy-in from both faculty and students was pretty impressive, and there are other districts in the county that want to mirror some of the stuff we’re doing.”
The meeting, held on Tuesday, January 24, was chaired by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Gwendolyn Roraback and attended by district educators and administrators, and members of the public. Though there were also Board of Education trustees in attendance, the DEI is a districtwide work group rather than a committee of the School Board.
Roraback spoke of the unusual but wholly appropriate step the district took by inviting Students For Change to speak before visiting administrators and educators.
“We just need to give them a voice and provide space for them to utilize their voice,” Roraback said.
Cahill Elementary Principal Shannon Molyneaux spoke about how the DEI is becoming second nature, but that it’s important to continue working hard to ensure it stays that way.
“We’re getting to the point where I feel like it’s just embedded in our conversations and it’s no longer necessarily just a separate thing that we have to make sure that we’re doing, but we also have to make sure that we are getting to that point,” Molyneaux said, adding that while her school recently honored Dr. Martin Luther King, and the nationwide Black History Month is coming in February, it was crucial that their efforts aren’t just calendar-based.
“I like to believe that these types of things are just integrated throughout the year and not necessarily a particular time of year,” Molyneaux said, adding that inclusion must extend to all students. “It’s important, especially here, with a lot of our English language learners to incorporate their culture into the classroom conversations.”
Kristina Giangreco, principal at Grant D. Morse Elementary School, spoke about the importance of purposeful education.
“I think when you’re talking about DEI, the most important thing is another word we’ve used a lot this year, which is intentional,” said Giangreco. “When we’re intentional, we look through a lens of making sure all of our students see representation. Um, when we do our newsletter stories, we’re intentional in that we’re picking authors from a variety of backgrounds and we’re celebrating and letting kids learn about holidays they might not celebrate, but the importance is that they experience them and know about them, so they’re a more diverse global citizen and able to interact with people from many backgrounds.”
As an example, Giangreco noted that the recent holiday celebrations included Christmas decorations, a Kwanzaa kinara and a menorah.
“It led to conversations with students,” Giangreco said. “Our kids are so excited to learn about different backgrounds.”
The DEI is being partly guided by the principles of the State Education Department’s culturally responsive sustaining education framework, and the Board of Regents’ initiative on diversity, equity and inclusion. During last week’s DEI meeting, those in attendance were added to breakout groups to brainstorm ideas of how to further adapt those principles so they’re relevant to the SCSD.
School Board President Robert Thomann read a draft belief statement that came out of his breakout group.
“The Saugerties Central School District is committed to an educational community that seeks facts, solutions and conversation, not reactions and assumptions, and through mutual respect and common goals where all students can reach their potential,” Thomann said. “The (SCSD) will foster empathy and connection to each other, the community and the world in pursuit of inspiring our students and staff to be agents of change for diversity, equity and inclusion in the world.”
While much of the meeting was centered around efforts at the elementary school level, Roraback said that the secondary level is also important to ensuring DEI reaches the entire school community.
“At the secondary level we’re focused on project-based learning, but really through the lens of equity work,” Roraback said. “So project-based learning is equity work, literacy work is equity work.”