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The Head’s Perspective: Focus on Diversity at Wildwood
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Assistant head of school Melinda Tsapatsaris and I participated in a book discussion this fall, a conversation about J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Both Melinda and I were raised in working class communities, she outside of Columbus, Ohio and me outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. We’ve often acknowledged this shared cultural identity over the course of the decade we’ve worked with one another. At base, our multicultural programming at Wildwood School seeks to affirm the myriad cultural identities, like socioeconomic status, that we each bring to the communities of which we are a part. Understanding our own identities, both in isolation and in relation to the identities of those around us, is an important tool for students—or any of us.

 

I believe that bringing varied perspectives to bear is especially important in independent school communities, colleges, and universities, where the traditional standard had been to affirm the cultural identities of the majority while providing newcomers with the opportunity to assimilate. Much has been written about the importance of individuals developing a more broadly constructed civic identity in order to be, in the words of Dr. L. Lee Knefelkamp, a professor at Columbia University, “…fully engaged, fully human citizens of their communities.” According to Dr. Knefelkamp, the integration, critical thinking, and capacity for empathy required of the development of a civic identity “…challenges us to identify with others who may be significantly different from ourselves while acting consistently in the face of unexpected circumstances. By developing an active, integrated civic identity, individuals begin to find wholeness and psychological balance within themselves and with others in the world.” Doesn’t that describe the individuals we hope to send out into the world beyond school?

 

Wildwood’s particular take on this work, developed over time and with the involvement of a dynamic group of K-12 faculty; Rasheda Carroll, our Director of Multicultural Affairs; and other administrative leaders, is admired in independent and public schools around the country. Through our Outreach Center and my colleagues’ and my articles and presentations at national and regional conferences, thousands of independent and public school educators have been engaged in the work and inspired by our practice.

 

Our Board’s annual retreat, held in October, included a half-day workshop with noted diversity practitioner Alison Park, who’s worked with both our K-12 faculty, Multicultural Leadership Team, and is a guest faculty member at our annual Multicultural Leadership Institute. The Board’s current strategic plan reaffirms our commitment to multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity and has led to several efforts playing out this school year, one of which will include all members of the community.

 

In a process that parallels the work of the Board’s Diversity Task Force, Wildwood School has established an AIM Steering Committee to lead us through the considerable work of participating in the National Association of Independent School’s Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, a rigorous tool that includes both qualitative and quantitative data. I’d like to thank my colleagues, Board, and parent and alumni volunteers who are serving on the task force and on the steering committee. Taken from the NAIS website, the goals of AIM include:

• Determining progress in meeting diversity and multiculturalism goals;
• Assessing current diversity and multicultural initiatives;
• Encouraging participation of all school affiliation and affinity groups in assessing the school’s current level of inclusivity;
• Providing affirmation of a school’s progress in diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusiveness;
• Providing for meaningful dialogue on building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive school community;
• Providing benchmarking opportunities; and
• Allowing for a community-building process/experience.

 

Orchestrated by Rasheda Carroll, the AIM process is underway. A series of fifteen “discovery groups” have begun and will continue through the winter months, providing content for our self-assessment. Concurrently, members of the school community—employees, parents, and students in middle and upper school—will be asked to take the AIM Climate Survey from January 13 through February 5 .

AIM Steering Committee members will, over the course of the spring, disseminate the information and data collected and, reconciling it with benchmarked data from peer schools that are similarly committed to diversity and inclusion, will begin to craft observations and recommendations that will be provided to the Board’s Diversity Task Force. That group will, in turn, lead the work of the Board in identifying strategic priorities and goals for the future.

 

Thank you to both parents and students, in advance, for participating in this important process by completing the survey. In the same way that we regularly ask students to be brave as they reflect on their academic and personal growth, I’d ask that Wildwood parents taking the survey see, as I do, that honest reflection and constructive feedback is an expression of faith and commitment to our school, our community, and our shared future.

 

Although we’ve enjoyed much success at Wildwood School, we are anything but complacent. The goals that my colleagues, our Board, parents, and I have had for the work have been clear over the course of the last decade, yet the “why” has evolved and grown stronger: a preparation for college is lessened—is compromised—by the absence of honest reflection about who we are, how we learn, and what we have to contribute. Now more than ever, the skills and perspectives that students gain from the richness of our program is necessary and valued on college campuses and beyond.

 

I’d like to thank those involved in this critically important work by serving on the Board’s Diversity Task Force and on the AIM Steering Committee.

 

Diversity Task Force: Melanie Benefiel, Joel Brand (Task Force Chair) Rasheda Carroll (Administrative Liaison), Lisa Eisenpresser, Lisa Flashner (Board Chair), Peter Frankfurt, Nina Jacobson, Emma Katznelson, Phil McFarland, Cynthia Patton, Katie Rios, Don Smith, Art Streiber, Paige Tolmach, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Collette Bowers Zinn, and me.

 

AIM Steering Committee: Kyndall Brown, Rasheda Carroll (Coordinator), Sandi Crozier, Lisa Eisenpresser, Desiree Gaitan, Ben Salk ’09, Don Smith, Paige Tolmach, Kira Arne Verica, and Collette Bowers Zinn.

 

For yet another opportunity to engage in Wildwood School’s Multicultural programming, please join us for an evening session with this year’s Multicultural Symposium keynote speaker, Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. An advocate for peace and justice for all, Reverend Bacon retired after 30 years as the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 

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