Jefferson City Public Schools' recently inaugurated equity council is going to focus on four areas to explore diversity and inclusion in the district's schools and beyond, including making sure students have access to a quality education and that staff — a more diverse staff — have the support to be able to deliver it.
JCPS' equity council is one of the district's initial diversity and inclusion goals announced earlier this year. Members of the council include parents, teachers, current and former school board members and employees of the county, state and Lincoln University.
"This group represents a cross-section of both our district community and the Jefferson City community at-large," Shelby Scarbrough JCPS director of human resources, said via email.
The News Tribune reached out Wednesday to Scarbrough to get a clearer explanation of what kinds of diversity the district used to define what a good cross-section of its schools or the community is, but did not immediately receive a response.
"I think it's a good representation; it's a very diverse council," and a diverse representation of different organizations in the community, said Misty Young, who is a member of the JCPS equity council and director of university relations at LU.
Young is one of two members of the council from Lincoln, who are among the 16 people named by JCPS earlier this month as being on the council. The other members are:
Linthacum in February announced bringing back a "multi-cultural advisory committee" was one of the three priority diversity and inclusion goals for the district, along with work to diversify the district's staff to better match the student body and diversity training for staff that the district hosted in three sessions over the past year.
Linthacum said in February he was speaking with potential committee members, and three members of the equity council the News Tribune spoke with — Couty, Enloe and Young — said they'd each been invited by Linthacum after the 2018-19 school year started.
In the months since February, Scarbrough said, the district has used its diversity training sessions to frame conversations on the council.
"The training helped identify ways to frame healthy conversations around increasing equitable opportunities for our staff and students," she said.
Enloe said the parents on the council are asked to represent all parents in the district, and not just their child's school — the same with the teachers.
Scarbrough said the parents were chosen "because of their active involvement with their particular school communities."
She said, "We have spoken with high school staff about the possibility of engaging students in the future," but did not say how many.
Couty and Enloe said they didn't know what powers the equity council has or might have — whether it could spend money, do studies, or make suggestions or reports directly to the board — but neither was at the first meeting in October.
Linthacum said Wednesday the council will not be purchasing things or hiring people, but will gather input.
Young, who was at the first meeting in October, said, "We're more of an advisory committee," adding discussions at the meeting were about what goals the council wanted for itself — including a focus on student achievement and looking at hiring practices.
"The first meeting was an opportunity for participants to get to know one another and share a little bit about experiences they have had in their respective roles while interacting with the district or with the local community," Scarbrough said.
"Attendees also brainstormed on what next steps they would like to take as a group and identified four focus areas:
Couty said he would also like to examine staff diversity, and ask whether certain policies are disproportionately affecting some groups — to make sure the school system is one "that people coming in will feel welcome," staff and students.
"What I really hope we can do is just have good, open and intentional lines of communication," Enloe said. "I want us to have good communication between all the stakeholders. I don't see it as just a minority — I don't want us to focus exclusively just on equity with our minority students. I want us to focus on equity for all students."
He added equity to him means having equal opportunities.
Burns said the council will be facilitated by Scarbrough and will meet informally and quarterly at the JCPS board office.
"At this time, the equity group's process is rather informal as we are just in the early planning and discussion phases to identify community needs and ways the district can support those needs. If throughout the process we determine a need or desire to formalize the group, we will certainly explore doing so," Scarbrough said.
"The public is always welcome to make suggestions directly to the district via our director of communications, Ryan Burns," she added.
"As we go down this road and we start looking at the issues and policies, I think we should have a forum" for the community to contribute, Couty said.