AUBURN — The School Committee voted Wednesday to create a subcommittee in advance of working with a pair of consultants on a four-phase project to address diversity, equity and inclusion.

Laura Ligouri of Mindbridge and Virginia Dearani, an independent education consultant, gave a presentation to the school board, describing their vision on how they can assist the School Department.

Describing that the project is still in its “infancy,” Ligouri said they would be flexible on adapting a plan for the needs of the school system interacting on ways that they could help.

Both Ligouri and Dearani said Auburn school Superintendent Katy Grondin reached out to them  to develop a plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Grondin said the idea was sparked by last year’s work by Steven Wessler, founder of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, and a Boston Globe Magazine’s 4,000-word article a few months back detailing incidents of racism at Edward Little High School.

“We want our schools to be safe place for our students and staff,” Grondin said.

Dearani, who also serves as a full-time lecturer at UMaine-Farmington and a senior adviser and founder of One Tree Center in South Portland, which promotes nonviolence and cross cultural understanding, laid out the four steps of the proposed plan.

Phase 1 would include collecting data with field research and drawing on how other districts are handling diversity and inclusion issues. Dearani is supervising Bates College Honor Thesis student Sam Alexander to help her research and develop a literary review on the topic, utilizing information from school models in Boston, Minneapolis, Portland and Bangor.

“I really believe in data. I really believe in research,” Dearani said.

Phase 1 would also include discussions with stakeholders in the community and an equity audit of the School Department.

The group hopes to be ready for Phase 2 by March, when the school board could study the research and models developed and adopt the one that best fits its vision and mission. School staff would start receiving training.

The development of a comprehensive plan by the diversity, equity and inclusion committee for the 2020-21 school year highlights Phase 3. That would likely not start until summer when the new superintendent is in place.

Grondin’s last day as superintendent is June 30, 2020. The final phase includes completion of professional development for staff and the addition of student ambassadors.

The total budget for Dearani and Mindbridge is $115,000. Grondin said Title 4 funds would cover the $24,550 for Phases 1 and 2. Phase 3 will not start until after the current school year.

In the first meeting of the new School Committee elected in November, members received training from a representative from the Maine School Management Association on their roles and responsibilities. The association also described how it could assist with selecting a new superintendent. That process is expected to get underway in January.

Lisa Rodrigues, director of the Sharecenter in Auburn, revealed that her organization received a $40,000 grant from Maine author Stephen King. The money will go to purchasing a 15-foot box truck for the nonprofit that collects materials, furniture and supplies for reuse by schools and teachers.


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