St. Charles Dist. 303 board votes to hire firm to help promote equity and diversity

Updated 3/10/2021 2:19 PM

After much debate, St. Charles District 303 school board members on Monday voted 4-3 to hire a company to help promote diversity and equity.

They approved a $119,026 contract with Deep Equity, which will provide professional learning to staff on diversity, equity and inclusion. Voting "yes" were Board President Nick Manheim and Vice-President Carolyn Waibel, along with board members Jillian Barker and Becky McCabe.


Voting "no" were board members Ed McNally and Heidi Fairgrieve and newly seated board member Joseph Lackner.

"We have had teacher after teacher, parents, student after student and many alumni bravely take their time to communicate a very deep need for this type of learning to take place for our leadership, telling us about their experiences, what they've witnessed, how it has affect them and continues to affect them," Barker said. "I want us all to think about the fact we need to be responsive to the whole student experience. And I cannot vote to ignore their voices or their experiences as they've explained to us."

McCabe agreed.

"I think we have looked as a board that this is an incredibly important piece to the work we do for all kids. This is the first step," she said.

"I believe our teachers work very hard to meet the needs of all kids, but our system has to be looked at as well."

McNally, however, said the district first needs to study the issues involved.

"I prefer that the work be done in house first to determine what the real problems are, what the real issues are, because I don't think we really know the basis for all the issues," he said.

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His motion to table the item until next month to allow for more discussion failed.

"I am 100% for equity," McNally said. "However, I do not believe this is the right approach. I think we need more internal soul searching before we figure out what the right approach is."

The goals of the district's partnership with Deep Equity are to ensure all students, across all subgroups, achieve at high levels and to eliminate educational barriers and disparities. Other goals are to create a climate of inclusion, where all students and families feel welcomed and valued and to eliminate instances of discrimination related to differences in race, gender identify, sexual orientation, immigration status, language proficiency, and religion.

Board members also approved hiring a director of diversity, equity and inclusion at an estimated annual salary of between $115,000 and $150,000. Several surrounding school districts have created a similar position, including Community Unit District 300.

"I think that it's much more challenging to really affect any change in a large organization such as ours if we don't have someone that is 100% focused to that effort," Fairgrieve said before voting in favor of the proposed position.

McNally was the sole board member to vote "no."

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