Awareness toward cultural sensitivity is nothing new for the Franklin Special School District.
According to Mary Decker, the district’s associate director of schools for Teaching and Learning, teachers, administrators and district leaders have been engaged for some time in cultural training centered around diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Those are all topics Franklin Special has been aware of and has been providing professional learning for the last several years, for our teachers, paraprofessionals, school and district administrators,” Decker said recently.
“We weren’t able to do it this year because of COVID, but typically each year we’re able to bring all the employees together at one of our gyms and have an opening day kickoff. We’ll have guest speakers, and several of those speakers have touched largely on the topic of cultural sensitivity.”
For this year, however, Decker and other district leaders have recognized the need to turn the matter up a notch, to go beyond speeches and professional development in the quest toward equity for all students in the eight schools within the FSSD.
“In light of all that has been going on in the world, especially in the last year to year and a half,” Decker explained, “we really thought it was time to bring together our full leadership team as well as board members to have a professional learning session around cultural sensitivity, diversity, equity and inclusion, and to work together.”
To accomplish this, some 45 FSSD officials, Board of Education members and administrators met via Zoom earlier this month to participate in a seminar led by a Nashville-based consultant, author and motivational speaker. Derek Young, who owns Derek Young Speaks and has worked on cultural sensitivity awareness with a number of corporations, educational institutions and other organizations, facilitated the 3 ½ -hour session that included breakout groups.
Incidentally, Young’s firm was being considered to serve as a long-term cultural specialist for Williamson County Schools, but district leaders determined it would need a professional firm with more resources than one person could provide.
Young was the ideal choice for FSSD, according to Decker.
“Derek Young was someone on our radar who might be a great facilitator for these topics,” she said. We entered into conversations with him and explained we really wanted to have everybody on the same page to keep the ongoing focus on cultural sensitivity, but really bring in our leadership team and board, and all of our district and school administrators.
“I was very pleased with how it went. I’ve actually had both school and district administrators provide feedback to me. They said it was very worthwhile and they took a lot from it.”
School board members expressed their thoughts on the seminar at the January board meeting, and all indicated it was an important step for district leaders to take in addressing cultural sensitivity issues.
“When he [Young] started off the conversation and asked us what we want for our school district — to have that sense of belonging and for everyone to feel welcomed, accepted, believed, protected, defended — that really set the bar at a high level of why we do what we do for all students,” board member Allena Bell said. “That’s such a compelling part of our mission. And to have all of our leaders super-engaged in that mission … was amazing.
“I only wish other school districts would do this as well. I think they would really, really gain a lot of strides. This just took us to another level.”
Board chairman Robert Blair said Young’s seminar helped give the district tools for moving forward.
“I thought he challenged us on several different levels there and in the future,” Blair said. “And I think we need to stand up and accept those challenges and move forward as a school district, leadership team and all of us.”
That’s the key, Decker said, to not let the take-aways from a Saturday morning seminar become stagnant.
“Ongoing follow-up is very important,” she said. “We divided up into smaller teams, and Derek Young suggested that those smaller teams periodically check in with the full leadership team to see how we’re following up on what we just discussed — how we’re capitalizing on what we already have in place as far as being culturally responsive in providing support to people of color and all of our students and all of our staff.
"What are we doing? And how can we make sure we keep doing that, to provide follow-up indefinitely?”