As Wellesley Public Schools’ (WPS) first director of diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I), Dr. Charmie Curry has been more than busy in her first year-plus on the job. During this past week’s Wellesley School Committee meeting, she shared a glimpse into what she’s been up to and where she’d like to see the school system go in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Her presentation was sandwiched between comments from citizens who are urging the school system to break out a separate budget line for the DE&I department and a discussion between school leadership and School Committee members about about the budget.
The school department doesn’t sound inclined to break out a DE&I budget at this time, in part because the budget as constructed adheres to state standards, and in part because doing so could actually be more restrictive in terms of funding DE&I efforts, which are increasingly being interwoven across departments.
Citing a citizen’s comment at the start of the Feb. 2 School Committee meeting about the symbolism of having such a budget line item stand on its own, Dr. David Lussier said “…There’s obviously a level of symbolism and significance around these things that resonates in perhaps some unique ways that we normally don’t associate with budget line items elsewhere in the organization. That’s a fair statement. On the other hand, I think what we’re also trying to avoid, which provides a bit of a counterpoint, is creating a separate silo that works against embedding this work across the organization. Now I don’t think those things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but that’s the balance we’re trying to strike….”
Curry kicked off her presentation by acknowledging that “we are in some perilous times” as a nation, and that the work in DE&I at Wellesley Public Schools “fits within that socio-political context.”
Curry spent her first months on the job interviewing lots of people across the school system to understand her new work environment so that she could eventually get going on a strategic plan. By the end of last school year she’d come up with a list of priorities, including equity and racial literacy, designed to address problems, such as opportunity and achievement gaps, and unsatisfactory teacher and student experiences.
“When we talk about equity, student outcomes and experiences are not correlated with race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, ability, or other identity markers,” Curry said. “Currently in our district we do have some outcomes that are predicated by these identity markers, and we need this not to be the case.” An example: Black and Hispanic students are three to four times more likely to be identified for certain learning disabilities, she said.
Accomplishing these goals will require a “commitment to dismantling inequity,” Curry says.
The work so far this school year has included engaging students, educators, and administrators. Curry is particularly excited about launching a student advisory council to help “institutionalize student voice” in the overall DE&I process. This leadership effort will include an initial meeting this week with some 40 students from grades 7-12.
Faculty and staff leaders are being identified as well, and education across all faculty and stuff is being achieved in part through mandatory courses on equity. As a former classroom teacher, Curry believes a lot of change will start with changes in how class instruction is conducted. “As a classroom teacher I believe that outcomes can shift,” she said, citing changes in practice and outcomes in her own classrooms.
State and third-party resources have been tapped to help the administration learn about key data to collect and use to help the school system find out where its at and how it progresses on the DE&I front.
All of these efforts funnel into a developing 5-year equity strategic plan, which will sync with an overall WPS strategic plan. It all starts with approaching “equity as the vehicle through which we accomplish our work,” Curry says. “It is not an add-on, it is something that is a central part embedded in our work.”