As the DeWitt School District searches for a new superintendent, members of the DeWitt Community Partnership around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have some thoughts on what the district needs in its next superintendent.
The short answer: someone to continue the difficult work begun by outgoing Superintendent John Deiter.
The committee's goal is to have a safe and inclusive environment for students and community members and ensure that everyone has a feeling of belonging and support within the community and school district.
"We are in a really great place right now, and have been doing this work for about four years and we'd really like to keep the momentum going forward...on what has been a little bit of an uphill battle," said Sarah Reck, community liaison and public relations advisory committee member for the partnership.
"We need the new superintendent to be willing to work with us collaboratively on the issues that we see that are still in the school district...who is not afraid to take the risk, " she said. "DeWitt is majority white right now, and it has been for a long time."
Sarah Nicotra, co-chair and secretary for the partnership, said that means they have a responsibility to make sure non-white students "feel safe, protected."
"They need to feel like they belong," she said. "Our committee's been working towards that, but every day it's a partnership, and Deiter's been critical to that, and so with him moving out, our work and our committee really hinges upon whoever is coming in."
The committee began after the November 2016 incident at DeWitt Middle School, where a group of students formed a human wall to block minority students from getting to their destinations. One of those students was a seventh-grade girl who said her classmates told her to go back to Mexico.
"The district knew we needed to address some issues, so we reached out to a consultant to help us get a platform set up," Deiter said.
The committee met for the first time on Feb. 14 of the following year.
Reck joined the committee after her oldest daughter, who is now in fourth grade, experienced racism from her kindergarten classmates.
"A group of 14 students told her at recess that she couldn't play with them because her skin wasn't white," Reck said. "So, as a mother, I felt more than compelled that I had to do something about that, and so I took it as far as I could, and that ended up with Dr. Deiter."
"I grew up in the DeWitt School District. I wasn't unaware of the biases there. I just didn't, at the time, understand that I'd be dealing with it with her from such a young age," Reck continued. "I think it was great of Dr. Deiter to say, 'Hey, let's have this discussion."
The district has since hosted awareness nights for our parent groups, done other public outreach, book studies and a movie discussion night and march last summer, Deiter said.
"We want to make sure that we're using literature that's more reflective of our population," he said, "try to eliminate some of the books that might use stereotypes or are a little outdated, try to be, again, just a little more inclusive, and make sure that we're true to history, making sure that we're not using a white-washed version of history."
Though the committee has been around for four years, Nicotra said, "we're just getting to the point where students are now creating subcommittees, we're just getting to the point where we're ready to get involved in the community, like we're actually getting to a point where we're really able to maybe get something accomplished. Maybe. And I'm saying that in a very hopeful way."
The committee has also been working on a reporting system that would allow anyone in the community to report discrimination or bias to any committee member.
"None of this is about punishment. All of it is about support. How can we support our community, our teachers, our peers, our students, our parents?" Nicotra said. "What we've found is that people don't know how to interrupt racism when they see it. They don't know how to interrupt biased behavior, discrimination."
District officials hope to have its new superintendent by July 1.
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