May 22, 2019

By Mallory Herrmann,

An increasingly contentious board of education held an impromptu work session this week to continue discussing equity. While they only had one item on the agenda and spent more than an hour on the subject, little progress could be seen.

After their regular meeting on May 16, during which the board failed to approve a proposal for district-wide equity training from Educational Equity Consultants, the district’s lack of movement on their equity plan and insensitive comments from Board President Julie Doane have received national media attention.

Those comments included that she “just doesn’t like” the word privilege, a reference to choosing “a Spanish” over another candidate for a job and suggesting that she faces the same anxiety about getting pulled over by police as a blonde woman as someone who is black.

A regularly scheduled email newsletter that went out May 17 mentioned only that the proposal was not approved; a second email from Doane on May 20 included additional administrative updates, a note that the board would continue the equity discussion and a brief apology for her insensitive comments.

As her comments spread with a story from the Associated Press and social media threads on May 21, a May 22 work session was scheduled.

When Board Members Kim Fritchie, Mike Allen and Judy Hedrick started the meeting with their reasons for why they hadn’t voted for the proposal, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter suggested that those in attendance for the meeting weren’t interested in “rehashing” Thursday’s vote, gesturing to the standing-room-only crowd.

Carpenter, who is the district’s first black superintendent and the only person of color on the dais, expressed frustration with the board’s inaction on issues of equity. He told the board that there has been a “clear misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities.” It is the board’s job as a governing body to set priorities and establish a direction for the district; it is the superintendent’s job to find the means to those ends.

The priorities set by the board for the 2018–2019 school year were updated slightly from the previous year’s, but are the same essential objectives set in 2017, prior to Carpenter’s arrival in the district in July of that year.

**Increase the learning and achievement of every child through the development of a comprehensive academic framework informed by the needs of our students, the district’s strategic plan and the 2016 Academic Systems Review.

**Ensure equitable access to 21st century learning environments by engaging stakeholders in a process to update the district’s Comprehensive Facility Master Plan to meet the instructional and programming needs of all pre-K-12 students.

**Strengthen public trust in the district’s governance leadership team by systemically enhancing communication, involvement and collaboration to ensure constructive engagement within the school district community.

Carpenter also noted that the board looks at RFPs every single month and that most are simply approved by consent.

“There has never been one that’s been scrutinized like this one,” Carpenter said.

Among issues such as how to schedule training for staff and whether such training will have an impact on achievement gaps, Fritchie said she wanted promotional videos in addition to the presentation given by EEC, Allen said the board wasn’t given enough time to review the RFP, and Hedrick said that she wanted training that would address all of the minority groups represented by the student population.

“All I’ve heard here tonight is an expectation of perfection when it comes to equity training,” Carpenter said.

This is the second vendor that the board has decided not to move forward with, after a $7,000 training from Pacific Education Group was pulled from consideration in response to backlash from the community spurred by the redrawing of school boundary lines in the fall.

Allen said that the vote against the proposal shouldn’t be seen as killing the conversation on equity and that the board is still committed to training.

“One vote, one night,” Allen said.

Board Vice President Ryan Murdock continued to try to steer the conversation to action items, noting that if they go back to the beginning of the RFP process, they’re not likely to have any training in place until next spring. He suggested that Doane work with staff to get the issue back on the agenda for June, giving the board plenty of time to fully consider the proposal and ensure that the board is prepared to address unconscious bias, implicit bias and white privilege.

“I think that it is imperative that whatever recommendation comes forward and we approve, we approve it 7-0 and we go forward as a group, because otherwise we’re going to keep finding ourselves in this exact situation,” Murdock added.

Board Member Jackie Clark, who was absent from the meeting, echoed the urgency in a written statement provided to the board ahead of the session:

“We need to get to work on a THIRD attempt to hire a qualified, external equity and diversity training vendor so that ALL of the children in this district can succeed,” Clark wrote.

Another email from Doane was sent just before the start of the work session on May 22. In it, a bulleted list recounted her comments, the email apology that she said “did not go far enough,” and acknowledged the privilege that she has as a white woman who does not have to think about race.

“I am truly sorry for my comments, and I realize that my words have hurt others and caused harm within our community as well as causing further division,” Doane said.

Carpenter has been with the district since 2017. He has 23 years’ experience in public education and a doctorate degree in educational leadership and educational administration.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  • Tom Montgomery

    May 23, 2019 - 6:55 am

    This must be and should be parents job. Not sure really how I feel about school attempting major involvement.

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