The School Committee approved the creation of a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position in the Watertown Public School administration on Monday night.
The person will lead the district’s effort to ensure equity for students in the Watertown schools, but Superintendent Dede Galdston said he or she will not be the only one working on the issue.
“It is about having somebody there in a full-time position that can keep us moving, hold us accountable, make sure the plans that we create — not that they create — are actualized,” Galdston said. “And really pinpoint and targeting the support that we need in terms of professional development, in terms of family engagement, in terms of hiring and recruitment and retainment (of staff members of color). They are going to be able to keep us going and keep us in the right direction.”
School Committee members spoke in support of creating the new position. Lindsay Mosca wondered about the responsibilities of the new position and how the director will report back to the School Administration and the School Committee. David Stokes added that he believes the position should be at the level that reports directly to the Superintendent, not another department head.
Galdston said she has some ideas about the position, but she is also getting input from the Watertown Anti-Bias Coalition — of which the schools are a part — to help shape the position.
She added that the director will collect and interpret data about the district.
“I envision it would be a report back function of data. This is one of our areas that we have not done great job collecting data that informs equity work, whether it’s discipline, disproportionality of college/moving on, you name it,” Galdston said. “There is a lot of data to help point your direction. I think this person will be able to collect and warehouse and report back the existing data, and also the impact of what we are doing in a measurable ways.”
The district will be bringing in an outside group to do an equity audit of the Watertown Public Schools, Galdston said, and they will submit a report with data about the schools. This will provide information for the new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion can use immediately, instead of collecting that information when the person first arrives.
School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read said she thinks that the new director should not work alone.
“One person is a start, but it could be a whole department. I’ve looked at other districts that have this type of position. Usually they have more than one individual,” Rayman-Read said. “They speak to the fact of burnout, but also that it is important to have colleagues who look like you and that the district reflects that. I think that making sure that this person is not kind of tokenized in that way, and also more important that they have a support system. That is what will keep them in Watertown.”
Galdston said the District has already reached out to someone who coaches people in similar positions, who previously worked in such a role.
“Until we figure out what those additional layers will be, we would absolutely provide external support,” Galdston said.
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who is also on the School Committee, said the Council has begun discussions about creating a similar diversity position on the Town-side of the Watertown government.
The School Committee unanimously supported the creation of the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Galdston said that she learned a lot from the stories shared by students and parents, and thanked the groups that have helped with the creation of the new position, including the Anti-Bias Coalition and the recently created district Equity Leadership team.
“I really appreciate the support of the School Committee for the position, but, more so, I appreciate the entire community and the call upon us to make change and do better by our students,” Galdston said. “Watertown is a unique place, a very passionate place. We embrace that and go with our people, and I think we are going to do some really good, strong work that’s going to have a positive impact on the lives of our kids. I think we’ve already started that but I think right now we are going into a whole different gear.”
Galston told the School Committee that the work on diversity and equity is not a new one, and started before she arrived in Watertown in 2017. A diversity position had been in the budget for the current school year, but it was one of the items eliminated when the Watertown Schools made cuts to deal with the loss in funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Galdston said.
The position has been put into the level-services budget for the 2021-22 school year (Fiscal Year 2022), which means it is not a request for which funding must be found. The money to pay the salary will come from savings from the difference in salaries between retirees and people hired to replace them, Galdston said.
The district will begin advertising the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion position during the week of Jan. 4, 2021, Galdston said, with hopes of closing the application process at the end of January, go through the hiring process in February, and look to appoint someone by March 1.
The person will start no later than July 1, 2021, Galdston said, but if the person is available before then, he or she can begin working in Watertown at an earlier date.