By Crystal Hayduk
The Chelsea School District Board of Education participated in an interactive program called “Leading for Equity: An Introduction to Implicit Bias and Privilege” at its virtual work session on Sept. 28.
Four members of the board—Keri Poulter, Kristin van Reesema, Shawn Quilter, and Jason Eyster—serve on the district’s Equity and Social Justice Coalition, which has been working since last year to learn about and reflect on equity and social justice. Coalition members have been trained in either the Justice Leaders or Culturally Responsive Teaching through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and district administrators decided to focus on social justice with the school board as another way to infuse education on this subject into the district.
The evening’s program was facilitated by Dr. Sarena Shivers (executive deputy director of Michigan Association of School Administrators and teacher at Eastern Michigan University) and Naomi Norman (interim superintendent for WISD). The purpose of the program is to “work on the work.” Shivers said the topics are complex and time-consuming, and in one evening, the group will “only begin to peel back the top layer of the onion.”
Group rules included speaking from personal experience; seeking to understand, yet expecting disagreements and using them as an opportunity to listen more; challenging ideas but not people; practicing “both/and” thinking (instead of “either/or”); embracing multiple perspectives; and not freezing people in time (allowing people to grow).
Anyone in attendance at the work session was welcome to participate in the virtual interactive thought exchange to answer, “What are your hopes for how Chelsea, as a school community, will connect and act on inequities in all forms and spaces?” There were 23 participants; responses were anonymous.
Throughout the activity, attendees learned the difference between equality (everyone benefits from the same supports), equity (everyone gets the supports they need), and justice (systemic barriers are removed, allowing for the causes of inequity to be addressed).
Supplemental materials included a video on implicit bias (https://youtu.be/kKHSJHkPeLY) and a reading from the book Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving (Chapter One, pp. 11-15, excerpt here: https://debbyirving.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Website-Book-Excerpt.pdf).
Following these supplemental materials, board members were asked to verbally share examples of stereotypes about people of other races that they remember hearing and believing when they were children; and then to reflect on how stereotypes shape the decisions they make as adults.
The board also watched a short video of John Amaechi describing white privilege (https://fb.watch/PguDEH2Yq/), where “skin color has not been the cause of your hardship or suffering.”
Shivers said it is powerful to acknowledge privilege, even though it is impossible for someone with privilege to fully understand the lives of those who don’t have it. “We hope that we’ve stimulated further conversation for you as a board and you will create time for reflection around this topic,” she said. “Ultimately, consider your role as a governing board in light of these areas of implicit bias and privileges and how they can lead to inequities in your system if there’s not an explicit effort to dismantle these inequities and to change the trajectory in the future of Chelsea School District.”
Helber said Shivers and Norman will be invited back for a series of experiences at each of the three remaining work sessions scheduled for this year.
Building principals introduced their new teachers who were approved for hire at the Sept. 14 board meeting.
Stacie Battaglia, principal of South Meadows Elementary School, introduced Ashley Driscoll, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and five years of teaching experience. Battaglia described Driscoll as “poised and confident,” who loves building relationships with students.
Karyssa Witzig is a graduate of Central Michigan University (CMU) who also has a minor in language arts and one year of experience with the Calkins curriculum, which is an asset for the district’s literacy program, said Battaglia. Both Driscoll and Witzig are teaching fourth grade.
North Creek Elementary School Principal Kimberly Gillow, introduced three new teachers. Lauren Miller was a long-term substitute teacher last year and did her student teaching several years ago under Sandy Lantis. She is a graduate of CMU who has an early childhood endorsement. A kindergarten teacher, she is “a positive force for our staff” and is a leader, said Gillow.
Nicole Collins, second-grade teacher, received her degree from EMU and holds endorsements in K-5 and reading. Gillow said Collins is “confident and experienced and able to take on the challenges that we’re facing this year.”
Kindergarten teacher Gina Horsburgh graduated in 2020 with honors from Hope College following student teaching in a first-grade placement. Gillow said, “She impressed us because she was positive and calm. …We can’t wait to watch her soar through her career with us.”
Mike Kapolka, Chelsea High School (CHS) principal, said the district was fortunate to find Jason Rickli for a late opening split between the math and computer science departments. Rickli has more than ten years of experience and has the passion and ability to build and sustain programs. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan-Flint, and a master’s from Western Governors University.
The board approved the hiring of two new counselors at CHS. (Board member Dana Durst was absent.) The positions became available with the August resignation of Jason Murphy, and the retirement of John Andrews in November. The two candidates were chosen from seven applicants. Dorvia Thomas-Hill received her master’s degree in guidance and counseling from EMU. Tim Mann earned his master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Detroit Mercy. Both counselors will be introduced at the next school board meeting.
The board also approved the hiring of Jeffrey Rittenhouse as a building trades teacher for the South and West Washtenaw Consortium to replace Matthew Hagood following his August resignation. Helber said he has a great deal of experience in the building business and has also worked as an assistant and para-educator for other building trades programs. “We’re excited about his experience and to have Jeff with us,” she said.
The board approved a donation in excess of $1,000 from Bruce and Deborah Oakley for the district to purchase PPE (personal protective equipment).
The next regular board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, location to be determined based on health department COVID-19 guidelines.