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School board plans for equity council

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From left, Vice President Ruben Sanchez, President Alan Gedde, Secretary Dr. Kathleen Pittman and Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy are pictured at the Roswell Independent School District’s board meeting on Tuesday night. This marks the last meeting for Ruben Sanchez and Pittman as newly elected board members — Hope Morales and Hilda Sanchez (not pictured) — will replace them next month. (Alison Penn Photo)

As part of a statewide initiative, Roswell Independent School District’s (RISD) school board is seeking members for an equity council.

At the Tuesday night school board meeting, RISD Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) are requiring that all 89 districts, including charter schools, each must have an equity council.

No formal votes were taken by the school board, but the board members discussed how to start the process to get interested individuals to serve on the council. Board members Alan Gedde, Ruben Sanchez, Dr. Kathleen Pittman, James Edwards and Mona Kirk were present Tuesday night.

Incoming board members Hope Morales and Hilda Sanchez were also present and were invited by Gedde to share their input on the equity council.

According to The Associated Press (AP), these equity councils are mandated by the PED “as it works to address insufficient opportunities at public schools around the state.” The intention is to have the councils comprised of school staff, students and parents, as well as community members, to represent the student demographics.

The AP also stated that last year it was ruled in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit “that lawmakers and state education officials were failing their constitutional obligations to ensure an adequate education for vulnerable children from minority communities, non-English speaking households, impoverished families and students with disabilities.”

In her reports, McIlroy asked board members for their opinions on how the equity council members should be chosen and other input. McIlroy said Andrea Nieto-Walker, RISD director of equity and multicultural education, will be the director of the district’s equity council.

The expectation is to have the council established in April in order to create a “culturally and linguistically responsive framework for schools,” McIlroy said.

By Dec. 16, McIlroy said the district must share with the state who the district director will be and on Feb. 3, a readiness assessment must be conducted. McIlroy said the template for the readiness assessment will be sent out to the school boards in early January.

McIlroy and Kirk said the councils were discussed at the New Mexico School Board Association conference Dec. 5-7. They both said clarification was needed on the role of the equity councils.

“I think it’s things we’re already doing,” Kirk said of equity in schools. “It’s just we’ve got to put a label to it, so PED recognizes it.”

McIlroy asked how the board desired to identify potential council members, how to advertise the positions — if they want to do applications and how to select members. She said there must be no more than 15 members and, additionally, eight of the council members can serve three-year terms and the remainder can serve four-year terms.

Of the 10,708 RISD students, McIlroy said the council needs to mirror the district’s demographics at 70% Hispanic, 25% Caucasian, 2.5% African American and the remaining 1.1% for Native American, Pacific Islander, Asian and other students. She said half of the council must represent subgroups such as special needs, economically disadvantaged learners or tribal members.

After the board shared their opinions, the superintendent said the district would get the word about the council through a newspaper advertisement — and also put it on the district’s webpage as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Board members asked for a robocall to also be used.

McIlroy said a short application could be posted by the end of the week. She said a draft of the equity council members’ responsibilities and description will be written and potentially reviewed by the school board members.

McIlroy said the equity councils are a “great idea — long overdue,” and are being moved on by the state with “a sense of urgency” before the upcoming 30-day legislative session.

Gedde was concerned about people not filling applications out and asked if teachers and principals would identify those who might be interested to serve on the equity council.

Morales said she was aware of other districts that have had over 150 people apply. She added that it would be prudent to have the district office vet the applications first and applications should not be considered if applicants cannot commit to term limits. Additionally, she said potential members should know their role, applicable rules and frequency of meetings before applying.

A special meeting as early as next month could be held to review and vote on equity council applicants, McIlroy said.

Hilda Sanchez asked if there already was an organized equity committee. In response, McIlroy clarified that there is a different committee working on the district’s request for proposals for an equity audit. McIlroy said there are around 17 entities in the state that can do equity audits.

For clarification purposes, the state-mandated equity councils, RISD equity audit committee and the Coalition for Equity & Fiscal Responsibility, that arose after restructuring in the spring, are all different groups.

More coverage of this meeting will appear at a later date.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.