AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Eanes Independent School District’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultant visited with the community Thursday night in a virtual webinar, sharing the progress that’s been made since he was hired last summer.
Dr. Mark Gooden led the conversation titled “building a community of trust through racial awareness,” which included members of the recently-formed DEI Advisory Committee. That’s a group of more than two dozen students, staff and community members who are volunteering their time to openly discuss the issues and search for long-term solutions.
Gooden said since July 2020, he has conducted needs assessments, offered professional development to hundreds of EISD staff members, regularly met with the DEI Advisory Committee, submitted progress reports to the board of trustees and hosted student-led focus groups, among other things.
Gooden also outlined the goals for the district:
- Create a shared understanding of DEI through racial equity leadership training to build capacity and support sustainability
- Assess, monitor and work to modify the climate to ensure inclusivity for all staff and students
- Develop a system of equity-focused restorative justice in support of all learners
- Increase personal growth and learning of trustees, administrators, staff and students
Several DEI Advisory Committee members reinforced the positive progress the district is making and said the work being done is proving to be valuable.
“This isn’t something that is going to spur change overnight. It’s going to be a long and hard process,” said Westlake High School Junior Audrey Wong. “But I’m willing to wait it out, and I hope that you will stand with us.”
Ben De Leon, a committee member and a Westlake High School Class of 1997 graduate, said he is committed to identifying issues and correcting them in a district developed in a historically segregated city. He asked for the community’s help in the process.
“We are ready and willing to meet with people who have concerns. We are ready and willing to do the necessary work with the caveat that this is going to be an arduous process, this is going to be a bumpy road, but we will have the support that we need,” De Leon said.
Dr. Gooden said the students who participated in the focus groups were “brutally honest” about their experiences and many requested to participate in later discussions. Dianne Carter, the principal at West Ridge Middle School and a fellow committee member, said she was shocked to hear some of the testimonies that came from her students’ first-hand experiences. In many cases, those same students will be asked to return in order for Gooden to measure movement in racial awareness.
Most committee members said there has been a lot of positive soul-searching as they work to understand the inequalities that currently and have historically existed in the Eanes ISD.
This forward progress follows a KXAN investigation from August which revealed years of alleged racism among students at Westlake High School. At the time, we spoke to several former and current students of color about their experience in battling racism.
Around the same time, the Eanes ISD Board of Trustees brought on Dr. Gooden to lead this march forward into 2021. Dr. Gooden is contracted through the end of the year.