RCS adopts districtwide equity statement

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 7, 2022


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The Rochester Community Schools district recently adopted an equity statement as part of its mission to provide equitable opportunities for all members of the district.

RCS Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tiffany Goliday said the equity statement is the result of a collaborative process initiated by the RCS Equity Committee — a group of students, parents, caregivers, staff members and community members district officials said serve to advance Rochester Community Schools on its journey toward cultural proficiency, inclusion and belonging.

“We researched many different equity statements — not only around the county, but around the state and around the country — and it was really a labor of love to make sure that we highlighted the what, the why and the how, and that was extremely important to us,” Goliday explained. “This is just really a guidepost. This is a small fraction of the work that we are committing ourselves to.”

The equity statement, she said, serves as a “commitment to honor and affirm the complete humanity of all students, staff, caregivers and members within our organization.”

The district equity statement reads: “Rochester Community Schools is committed to providing an equitable education that prepares all students for an interdependent, evolving world. We believe in a unified culture of belonging for all. We recognize that systemic inequities exist that create educational equity gaps among various identity groups, specifically those who have been marginalized. Through a multifaceted approach of inclusion, we commit to creating opportunities and access, protecting the well-being of all, eliminating barriers, and educating within a safe environment where all individuals are valued, respected, included, welcomed, and acknowledged.”

On May 9, the RCS Board of Education voted to adopt the district equity statement, with a 5-0 vote. Although two board members — Kristin Bull and Scott Muska — were absent from the meeting, they each submitted letters for the record affirming their support.

“There is no better time than now to support a statement like this. The board and I fully support this,” Board of Education President Kevin Beers said.

Before the statement was presented to the board for a vote, district officials said community stakeholders, support networks and employee bargaining groups also had the opportunity to provide feedback.

The district Equity Committee, which was formed in 2020, partnered with Oakland Schools in 2021 to further engage in learning about equity.

During the May 9 Board of Education meeting, Jay Marks, a diversity and equity consultant for Oakland Schools, voiced support on behalf of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council of Oakland County, a body of equity leaders representing 10 school districts within Oakland County.

“We applaud the work done by Mrs. Tiffany Goliday and her committee to clearly articulate the purpose, intentions and rationale for advancing equity. In our current climate of division and controversy, many organizations have suspended this important work. Others have chosen to continue, but are doing so in ways that avoid public scrutiny. This statement represents a transparent and collaborative effort toward honoring the shared humanity of all Rochester Community School stakeholders,” he said.

A few parents who attended the meeting also shared their support or concern with the equity statement.

District parent Carol Beth Litkouie said she has many questions that have yet to be answered.

“Here’s an important question: How are you measuring equity? What standards are you using to know whether or not you’re achieving it? And are you measuring equal opportunities or outcomes? Words like inclusion, belonging and equity can sound nice, but if the praxis involves taking away opportunities from students to artificially make the outcomes appear more equal, that hurts the kids,” she said to the board.

District parent T.L. Copeland — a member of the parent stakeholder group called the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Parent Network — thanked the district for trying to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I wouldn’t be invested in this work if my child had not been impacted by it. I wouldn’t be invested in this work if I wasn’t working with adult student learners who express their challenges with not having information at a young age and being able to explore these things. As an adult who works with other adults and addresses the social, the emotional, the mental health needs of people in this community, I think it’s important to clearly state that you are supported, that we respect the work that you’re doing. We appreciate the work that you’re doing, and more importantly, that you are trying to create spaces that protect our children, when we have community persons who don’t. Thank you so much for your efforts. We really appreciate it,” she said.

Copeland said the DEIPN — which has a few representatives on the district’s Equity Committee — has been working in partnership with RCS to advance diversity, equity and inclusion for the last five years.

“We think it is still important, even though it is difficult and uncomfortable, to still move forward and do what needs to be done with the work, so that people don’t assume that we just stop when things are uncomfortable. We have to have those difficult conversations,” she said.

The district’s equity statement is only one small portion of the work, according to Goliday.

“What is important is really the after part of that — so how we live into this work,” she said. “The district Equity Committee will begin to work on a plan that will analyze qualitative data — for example, the voices and lived experiences of individuals and groups within our organization — and quantitative data — which might include grades, attendance, representation within our curriculum, discipline data, equitable hiring data and more.”

The committee, Goliday said, will listen to voices from various stakeholder groups to gain input and insight for the next steps.

“After reviewing the data, we will set goals and accountability measures for continuous improvement, monitoring outcomes and making adjustments where necessary. The plan will provide members of the RCS community an understanding of the necessity of DEI work for our students, staff and our entire community. Those are our next steps,” she said.

RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner said the district has been committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion for many years.

“This is ongoing work for quite a while that we have been committed to. It goes back multiple years,” he said. “The equity statement is not the beginning or the end of the work. I think it’s a continuation of the work that’s so important so that we make sure that we reach each and every child in our community.”

District officials said they invite all members of the public to get involved in the work.

“People can still get involved. Certainly reach out to us, reach out to Tiffany. We are always welcoming new people into our process and into our committee,” Shaner said.

“This process would not work if we did not ask for continued support, thoughts and ideas from the people within our community. … There will definitely be lots of opportunities for people to give their input and weigh in on the decisions that will impact, not only them, but their children as well,” Goliday added.

Copeland said the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Parent Network also welcomes involvement from all members of the public.

“The parent network has always opened that space for people to come in and have conversation and dialogue,” she said.

For more information on the district’s work with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, visit  www.rochester.k12.mi.us/academics/diversity-inclusion-belonging or call the district at (248) 726-3000.