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Group pushes equity plan

BY MICHAEL KADRIE | JULY 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City may soon have a new champion for equity in its schools.

Chad Simmons, the executive director of Diversity Focus, appeared before the Iowa City School Board on Tuesday to extend a helping hand to the district’s efforts to increase equity.

Diversity Focus is a nonprofit group that wants to integrate itself with the School District in the hopes of promoting diversity, cultural awareness, and inclusion in the area.

Its investors include the University of Iowa, Rockwell Collins, and ACT.

“We need to create a model that everyone can thrive in,” Simmons said.

Group officials want to work with the district to develop a plan to improve equity and aid in its implementation.

The group intends to provide funds as well as staff at no cost to the district for the first three to five years. After that, group officials expect the district to continue the programs and initiatives that they had started.

Simmons requested that the board reach a decision and begin developing a plan by Aug. 26 so Diversity Focus can begin to assess the amount of fundraising that it would have to do.

Board members weren’t very optimistic about reaching a decision on the issue by that date, but they assured Simmons that they liked the direction of the program. Because of the absence of school Superintendent Stephen Murley and board President Chris Lynch, the proposal was added to the agenda for the next meeting.

Murley told the board via email that he is willing to work with Diversity Focus.

Various members of Diversity Focus have spent the last six months in the community speaking with various officials, including Murley, about current issues and complexities of the School District’s situation.

Simmons specifically wants to work on recruiting and retaining skilled staff members in the district. Too many skilled administrators have been poached by surrounding districts, he said, and he doesn’t want to run the risk of the district becoming a farm system.

Diversity Focus hopes to prevent this by working in a multi-regional model to improve inter-district communication.

Board member Patti Fields was concerned about the need to continue funding once Diversity Focus leaves the district to its own devices.

“There has been a real struggle to figure out how to retain funding,” she said.

Newly appointed board member Orville Townsend Sr. was concerned about the manner in which the outreach would be conducted.

“We haven’t been able to get parents in the community involved,” he said.

Simmons emphasized the extensive preparation Diversity Focus has engaged in and assured board members that program’s sustainability and outreach are key components of the plan moving forward.

Despite not being able to give Diversity Focus an official nod, the board was universally appreciative of the group’s intentions. Board member Tuyet Dorau praised its intention to address the culture behind inequity.

The board directed Murley to continue work with Diversity Focus in the foreseeable future.


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