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WDMCS Board, Administration Commit to Actions for Equity

The West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a Board and administrative leadership commitment to six actions for equity at its June 22, 2020, regular business meeting.

  1. Schedule anti-racist listening sessions in person, online, and anonymous feedback for students, families, and staff.
  2. Hire a full-time WDMCS Equity Director that has a rich set of diverse experiences and a clear understanding of issues around racial inequalities.
  3. Engage in learning at Board workshops and discuss race.
  4. Create an advisory group of students, families, and staff to review data and guide our efforts.
  5. Board and leadership will engage in equity audits and data deep dives to identify barriers to opportunity for students of color.
  6. Review and evaluate the culture and tone of the necessity of SROs in WDMCS.

“I believe these recommendations take our equity work to the next level,” said Superintendent Lisa Remy, Ed.D. “We have to commit to taking some action when we have inequities inside our system.”

The commitment to action follows Board discussion about systemic inequity within WDMCS at the June 8, 2020, Board meeting, as well as the ongoing national and global movement for racial equity and social justice.

WDMCS formulated the actions in direct response to community feedback calling WDMCS to address systemic inequity. The actions are concrete steps that also represent a Board and district commitment to having more direct and data-driven conversations surrounding equity in the district.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg; we have a long way to go,” Board Vice President Jennifer Ulie-Wells, Ph.D., said. “The part I like about these six (actions) is that they’re creating a sustainable system.”

Board President Liz Cox | Board Vice President Jen Ulie-Wells, Ph.D. | Superintendent Lisa Remy, Ed.D.

All seven Board members shared their thoughts and personal commitments to the actions during discussion at the June 22 meeting. Board President Liz Cox called the Board to lead by example and self-direct their learning.

“I think we all, as Board leaders, need to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and take the responsibility upon ourselves to learn, not always look for someone to inform us,” Cox said. “We’re continuous learners as well.”

Board members Lonnie Dafney and Jill Caton Johnson, Ph.D., echoed Cox’s sentiments, with Caton Johnson asking the community to “hold us accountable.”

“My hope is that there are more actions, less words, to really address what’s happening here,” Dafney said.

"These six (actions) are a starting point.... It’s holding each other accountable and making sure that there is really meaningful change.” - Board Member Lonnie Dafney
Board members Lonnie Dafney, Jill Caton Johnson, Ph.D., & Vicky Poole, Ed.D.

Caton Johnson and fellow Board member Vicky Poole, as well as Superintendent Remy, emphasized the importance of action 2, hiring a full-time WDMCS equity director. Board members also discussed the anti-racism listening sessions and ways to provide feedback opportunities for all students, families, and staff.

Approval of the six actions was followed by open forum, a time when WDMCS community members can address the Board. During the COVID-19 pandemic, community members submit comments ahead of time to be read aloud at each meeting. Five written comments and four videos, most from Valley High School students and graduates, were submitted for the June 22 meeting. All addressed the actions for equity.

Board members Elizabeth Brennan & Jeff Hicks. | Pull Quote: "These actions are not the end. They are just the beginning." - Board President Liz Cox, June 22, 2020

The Board members and Superintendent Remy thanked the community members for their input. Ulie-Wells acknowledged the bravery and energy it takes to speak up, saying, “I appreciate all the voices that have reached out to us and continue to share their truth.”

Several Board members also attended recent forums organized by Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) student groups from Valley and Des Moines Public Schools. They praised the students involved for their social justice work in their schools and community.

“I have never been more amazed by how bright and thoughtful the group of young people leading things across our state is.” - Board Member Jill Caton Johnson, Ph.D.

“I think we’re finally at a point where we can acknowledge that they know a lot more about this than us, and we need to listen to them,” Caton Johnson added. Cox also thanked WDMCS staff for engaging in the district’s equity work.

The Board and district leadership stated that addressing equity in WDMCS will be ongoing, with the actions as a starting point. The Board confirmed that it would include an equity item in future meeting agendas to keep the equity work a visible top priority.

"These (actions) are not the end. They are just the beginning." - Board President Liz Cox

"We are chomping at the bit to make a lasting change, a long-overdue change, in our community," Cox said.

Text: WDMCS Board, Administration Commit to Actions for Equity. Board Approved June 22, 2020. Images: Numbers 1-6 in orange hexagons on a light blue background. The WDMCS logo in white.
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Alexandra Wade
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Photo credits: WDMCS School/Community Relations