As director of the Kent Intermediate School District’s newly created Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell wants “to make sure all of the kids in the village are taken care of.”
Kent ISD created the new office at the request of superintendents across the district, who saw a need to address the disparity they saw across racial and ethnic lines in their classrooms and on test scores.
The district wants Lovelady Mitchell to help local school administrators and teachers identify and address where racial and ethnic bias is creating barriers to learning.
That means heightening the awareness among educators about places and situations where diversity and inclusion may be overlooked or disparities go unseen, says Lovelady Mitchell, who had been principal of Kent Innovation High School.
“It’s important that all educators have cultural cross-competency,” she says.“I believe my calling is to help others maximize their potential.”
The 1999 graduate of Ottawa Hills High School says she encountered racism and bias during her educational years. As the mother of two sons in middle-school, “I wish to have them live in a very different world.”
Lovelady Mitchell, who earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University and holds graduate degrees from Michigan State University and Aquinas College, is the first member of her family to graduate from college.
Administrators lobbied for the creation of this new position after standardized test scores showed minority and students from low income households continue to lag behind. But the need for it goes beyond raising test scores, says Kevin Polston, the superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and chairman of the advisory committee that helped create the new office.
“If we hope to grow as a region, it has to start with an equitable education for all students,” says Polston, whose district has the highest poverty rate in Kent County. Languages other than English are spoken in two-thirds of his students’ homes.
“The data is clear that we need to focus on equity in our schools, not just on the test scores, but in all areas – our hiring, our perceptions, our discipline, our suspension, our expulsions,” Polston says.
The new office also will capitalize on the region’s diversity, says Michael Zoerhoff, superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools, who oversees the most diverse school district in Michigan.
“We have students who were born in over 90 different countries and our students speak over 60 different languages,” Zoerhoff says. “Educating students with a language barrier can prove challenging but we view our diversity and different cultures as the strength of our community. Part of the beauty of Kentwood is that new immigrant students easily fit in with everyone else because of the district’s rich diversity.”
Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff says the ISD took on the challenge of creating the position because it fulfills a countywide need. “We see a need in the districts for this type of thing,” Caniff said. It is designed to help teachers look at their students “through the lens of equity,” Caniff said. “If they’re not, they need training.”
Caniff said he hopes it will also help districts recruit more minority teachers who share their students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“The teachers who are in front of our children don’t look like the students they are serving,” said Caniff, noting that less than 5 percent of the county’s teachers are African American while 13.7 percent of the students are African American. Likewise, 17 percent of the region’s students are Hispanic/Latino compared to less than 3 percent of their teachers.
Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent Bill Smith says the new office will be successful when diversity, equity and inclusion are no longer an issue.
“Success is when we no longer have to put it on our agenda.” said Smith. “All of our superintendents understand the value of inclusion. All students should feel like the school is their home.”