A case for expanded diversity, inclusion, and equity training in PCS

Dr. Lamarr Darnell Shields is “currently working with Transformation Zone educators, but his scope of work needs to expand district-wide,” said Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.

By Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D., Contributor

PINELLAS COUNTY — Paging Dr. Shields, Paging Dr. Shields, you are needed in Pinellas District Schools. You are currently working with Transformation Zone educators, but your scope of work needs to expand district-wide. A recent incident at a Pinellas elementary school outside of the Transformation Zone clearly illustrates the need for expansion.

Dr. Lamarr Darnell Shields is a nationally regarded diversity, inclusion, and equity trainer currently working in the district’s Transformation Zone, having previously trained Zone educators with glowing assessments from attendees. I attended several of his sessions and was impressed with him and his team’s ability to disseminate extremely sensitive information in a non-threatening or accusatory manner. Participation and testimonials by the attending educators speak volumes for his effectiveness.

Earlier this year, to his credit, Assistant Superintendent Bill Corbett facilitated Shield’s return to the district. I am sure Bill realizes Shield’s talents can certainly help the district meet its objectives in diversity and inclusion.

Recently, an educator outside of the Transformation Zone working at an elementary school caused quite a stir. I will not name the educator given I think the intentions were good; however, the implementation was racially insensitive.

One may attribute the insensitivity to implicit bias or simply the fact that sometimes we do not know what we do not know.  Here’s what transpired.

The elementary educator announced an initiative called “Staff Stewards.”  According to the educator, during the Medieval period, replete with lords, stewards were the lord’s deputies and were responsible for looking after the lord’s properties.

Accordingly, the educator noted, students are “our property,” and all fourth and fifth grade Black, Latino and multi-racial students will be assigned a steward (staff mentor). The educator announced, “You will look after our property,” and compiled a property list for the stewards to choose from.

What then is the problem?  First, the educator overgeneralized the diagnosis and prescribed an iatrogenic treatment.  Are all Black, Latino, and multi-racial students in need of a mentor?  Certainly, one would think there are scholars in these categories with high self-esteem and performing well in school.

Second, the idea of these scholars as property conjures up thoughts of the plantation, slavery, tomato fields, and other situations of forced labor. If the scholars are property, what status do parents hold, and how are they treated if and when they seek information or attempt to advocate for their children?

Third, to what extent are the educators fostering a self-fulfilling prophecy.  A view of a scholar as property in need of a steward could result in low expectations and other negative perceptions that may be harmful to a scholar’s self-efficacy and overall development.

I can think of other harmful outcomes from such a policy, but I will not do so because I believe it is imperative that we focus on an effective treatment –paging Dr. Shields, paging Dr. Shields. I believe the educator has good intentions, should be encouraged for the effort and provided the training necessary to assist in appropriate cultural analysis and the formulation of culturally appropriate solutions.

Therefore, I recommend the administration immediately expand Dr. Shield’s scope of work to include the entire school district.

Situations such as the one described are detrimental to all involved. The scholars are adversely impacted, educators involved in the implementation are negatively impacted, parents suffer, and the school environment is subjected to tension and disruption that is not conducive to learning or harmonious peer relationships.

Goliath J. Davis, III. Ph.D.

I am sure some will oppose expanded diversity, inclusion, and equity training, given the current political climate. However, the training is needed, and the current environment exacerbates the need.

Now more than ever, the need for understanding and civility has never been greater.  I am confident the district will respond appropriately.

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