Education equity plan moves ahead as committee takes shape

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by Mike Knaak

With a meeting on Nov. 4, Sartell-St. Stephen school district’s long-debated equity audit is now taking shape.

About 30 people attended the meeting where Equity Alliance Minnesota Executive Director Sebastian Witherspoon outlined plans and a timeline for the effort, aimed at identifying concerns and suggesting solutions to race and other education equity issues.

The group will meet on the first Tuesday of every month. Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said the group discussed its role in the audit process and the consensus was that it should promote things happening in the community, identify topics and provide speakers. Schwiebert said he expects the group to pick a leader or chair at its next meeting.

The Nov. 4 meeting included six students as well as community members. School board members Amanda Byrd and Jeremy Snoberger attended. 

Meanwhile, plans for conducting the audit’s surveys are moving ahead. The surveys of students, staff and community members will be administered through the district’s email system and online.

Schwiebert said Witherspoon explained what questions will be asked so that they are not shaped by pre-conceived notions. “We want to let the survey determine the issues” not the other way around, Schwiebert said. “What are our issues and then how do we respond?”

The surveys will probably start in December, and Schwiebert said the school board will review community questions before those are sent out.

The equity-audit idea arose last summer after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and a renewed interest in systemic racism. On June 24, students, teachers and community members shared stories of racism, insensitive, hurtful comments about religion and failed attempts to correct the problems.

Equity Alliance will complete the audit by looking at school data, policies, surveys, focus groups and classroom observations

During January, researchers will visit classrooms if COVID-19 precautions allow. Focus groups with students, staff and community members will take place either in person or online. Equity Alliance plans to use data and feedback from surveys to form focus group questions.

In late winter, the findings will be compiled into a report and recommendations will be presented to the school board in April. Schwiebert said the board will discuss the findings and come up with an action plan for the 2021-2022 school year.

The audit will cost about $80,000.


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