Looking Back and Forward: DEI at Work at Park

in Spring 2022 by

Thinking back to the quiet campus to which I arrived at Park last July, the amount of learning, listening, and planning across these last months is truly astounding. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from every corner of campus and for all who are deeply and personally invested in our commitment to community and belonging at Park. I’d like to share highlights of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work underway in 2021-22.

Before the academic year even began, 14 members of the faculty, administration, and staff committed their valuable time to the three-day NARTI (National Anti-racism Teach-in) Conference. This virtual national event drew educators from across the country to engage in active conversation across a wide range of topics and perspectives. In August, all new employees took part in a weeklong orientation program, including a three-day workshop led by VISIONS, a DEI training program that guides participants toward deeper connection with their own selves as empathy-driven partners in an educational community, learning to listen, see and value difference, and understand our common humanity. 

Fall … 

As we settled into the academic year, I immersed myself in the Park community with a listening and learning approach. I’ve built relationships with students, faculty and staff, parents and guardians, and alumni. I’ve enjoyed visiting classrooms to introduce myself, and joined morning meetings for community building time with students.

In October, Kindergarten Assistant Teacher Courtney Stanley and Grade 2 Teacher Naomi Joseph became DEI Liaisons. Our DEI team meets weekly to plan, organize, and undertake work that supports Park’s DEI initiatives.

In the classrooms, our partnership with the Boston-based social justice organization Wee The People continues, with co-founder Francie Latour leading our teachers through workshops that bring an antiracist focus and perspective to teaching practices. Francie meets with departments and grade-level teams in consultation for more focused small-group work. In addition, VISIONS training continues at regular intervals for all employees through the course of the academic year, helping to continue building the tool box we need to be effective educators and constructive members of our diverse community. Workshop topics have focused on gender, socioeconomic class, and intersectionality. 

Director of Instructional Practice Pamela Penna invited me into the faculty “Day of Collaboration” process early this year. I’ve enjoyed sharing a DEI lens and perspective with colleagues when meeting with grade-level teams to examine curriculum. I also joined colleagues in Park’s Development Office as part of their Antiracism Task Force, which seeks to bring an Antiracist, DEI-focused lens to all aspects of alumni relations, fundraising, campaign planning, and community engagement.

Once again this year, we have an active cohort of faculty and staff engaging in SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) seminars. These sessions are a personal and professional development program designed to equip participants to connect their lives to one another and to society at large by acknowledging systems of power, oppression, and privilege. It’s been a joy for me to co-facilitate the faculty and staff seminars with Kindergarten Teacher Keisha Jones Riley. A parallel SEED seminar for parents and guardians is also underway, facilitated by Grade 2 Teacher Liz Miller, and Park parent Elyse Seltzer. 

Winter …

In December, 13 members of Park’s faculty and staff attended the annual NAIS People of Color Conference (POCC). We were fortunate to extend our opportunities for community and connection through a partnership with peers at Dedham Country Day School and a social gathering with BIPOC faculty and staff from other local AISNE schools.

Thanks to an active partnership with the Parents’ Association, we’ve been able to offer several DEI-based, community-building programs for Park families, as well. I deeply appreciate the thoughtful engagement of the PA’s leadership, DEI Committee, and Affinity & Working Groups in our monthly meetings. Through a network of ten groups, now in their second year, parents and guardians have engaged deeply about important issues. In January, Wee The People presented two ABCs of Racism workshops for parents and caregivers. Most recently, the PA sponsored a virtual presentation by Dr. Christia Brown, a developmental psychologist whose work provides strategies for addressing gender stereotypes and biases to promote gender equality and the formation of positive gender identity in children.

This March, the DEI Office and Academic Support Department have partnered to bring a virtual film screening of Normal Isn’t Real for faculty and staff. Our goal in viewing this film as a professional community is to consider how we can further deepen our inclusive practices for our students and families impacted by learning differences. Twelve faculty and staff members will lead small breakout discussion groups following the film to reflect and debrief.

March also brings an exciting new partnership for the Park community: joining the Critical Conversations Speaker Series as a local partner. Since its founding in 2020 by the New Roads School in California, the series has grown to a network of over 40 private and public schools and more than 50 preschools nationwide. Speakers Series guests have included Professor Ibram X. Kendi, Isabel Wilkerson, Professor Loretta J. Ross, and Van Jones. The Park community will have the opportunity to join the next session on Thursday, March 10, featuring internationally renowned contemporary artist Mark Bradford.

Spring … 

As we continue into the second half of the 2021-22 academic year, some of the exciting DEI initiatives ahead include:

  • Launching affinity groups for Upper Division students
  • Establishing a resource bank that will house DEI resource content for families
  • Establishing a Faculty & Staff DEI Council, which this year will focus on examining Park’s religious and cultural observation practices and developing an institutional plan for 2022-23 onward.
  • Working closely with the SPARK Campaign leadership on how DEI-focused endowed funds will support exciting work ahead.

DEEIP – the foundation for the work … 

Last year, Park launched the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Implementation Plan (DEIIP), an ambitious vision to guide ongoing DEI work at Park. In my first months of getting to know Park and coming to understand our DEI priorities, I looked closely at the DEIIP with an eye toward how these important plans could more effectively meet the lived experience of the Park community. We have refocused the plan, emphasizing clear, actionable priorities that will be the foundation of ongoing work. We have defined nine initiatives that are the immediate focus for this year. The DEIIP Steering Committee, launched last year, welcomed new members representing faculty, administration, staff, the Board of Trustees, and the PA DEI leadership. I co-chair the DEIIP Steering Committee alongside Head of School Scott Young, and the group meets monthly and serves as a constructive sounding board to support the work of the DEIIP.

All these efforts, separately and in support of each other, help us engage thoughtfully with our mission of community and belonging on every level, personally, academically, and institutionally. I have often reflected that unlike many other fields – finance, business, sports, publishing, art – in which a clear and visible “product” can be seen quickly, the education field is often a place of delayed gratification. We don’t flip a switch and see immediate change. We are committed to building strategic, lasting, sustainable and meaningful change that will continue to shape the lived experience of our community – now and in the future. To support this essential work, we are so excited that this year’s Giving Day will be dedicated to igniting greater equity for community and belonging – what a wonderful opportunity to bring the community together in shared appreciation for Park’s mission.