Sometimes, the placement of a single word can make all the difference.
As Stoughton Area School District staff and school board members go over their rolling 5-year strategic plan, they’re considering some small changes to district information to reflect a greater emphasis on diversity. Monday night, that meant adjusting placement of one word to make clear the district seeks to build a diverse staff, not just a staff who can support a diverse student population.
District superintendent Tim Onsager said the strategic plan is the district’s “road map for five years,” which has been under some reconstruction in the past few months by the board’s executive committee. The group suggested a few wording changes discussed Monday night, including information for prospective district students, parents and staff.
Onsager said the district is focusing its messaging on engaging students, staff and the community, and creating instruction that promotes students’ physical and emotional well-being.
“We want to look at the whole child,” he said. “There’s more to a child than a test score, and we want to engage them in physical and emotional well-being so they feel safe and confident.”
He said one of those ways is to help attract a more diverse staff.
In a section describing how the district intends to engage staff, board members debated two different wordings. One was “by retaining, recruiting, and developing highly-qualified staff who reflect and support our diverse student population,” while the other moved “diverse” before the word “staff.”
Board member Jill Patterson said the simple switch could mean all the difference for a potential educator evaluating whether Stoughton is the right fit.
“If I’m applying to the district and I’m anyone other than a regular white (person), I want to see they say ‘diverse staff’ together, like that,” she said. “That, to me, would go, ‘Oh, they like diversity, that’s important, that’s right there in front of staff – they are looking for staff who are diverse.’ That’s meaningful to have it there.”
Yolibeth Fitzgibbon said diversity isn’t just limited to race, but “every kind of diversity,” including physical abilities and sexual preferences.
“We already know the student population is diverse – probably not as much as in other places – but we want to attract that qualified and diverse staff,” she said. “We need to have that in our philosophy and our way of thinking when we are hiring; we have to have that in our veins. If we don’t say it, we just kind of forget about it, and to me, that’s very important to have that ‘diverse staff’ in there.”
Joe Freye said the wording adjustment is “a step toward trying to have a more diverse staff.”
“It’s easy for a lot of us forget what it means to be a student of color or a student of different sexual orientation and never see in 12 years of your education anybody that looks like you,” he said. “I can’t imagine it. So if changing the wording a little bit starts to get us down that road, I’m supportive.”
The issue will soon come back to the board for an official vote, likely at its next meeting.