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‘Ahead of the game’ on diversity

Elmont School District shares its DEI plans

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As part of the Elmont School District’s goal to make classrooms more inclusive, district leaders rolled out their Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity plan on April 14. The plan, which was presented to parents and district residents via Zoom, has four phases (see box) that incorporate teachers, administrators and parents as committee members to drive and assess the program’s progress.

“Our framework is based on some goals that are rooted in equitable, inclusive and diverse opportunities for all students to reach their highest potential,” said David Spinnato, the district’s director of technology curriculum. “Each phase of our plan builds on a previous stage, and it’s occurring concurrently.”

The DEI plan, adopted by the school district in February, is based on the State Education Department’s “culturally responsive-sustaining education” framework, which pushes for equitable opportunities to help all children thrive. Dr. Wellinthon Garcia, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said that the plan builds on the district’s accomplishments over the years.

“Elmont is ahead of the game in regards to rolling this out,” Garcia said. “I think the diversity within Elmont has been our strength throughout the whole time that we’ve been doing this work. This will be continuous throughout the year and furthermore.”

Garcia also discussed the metaphorical use of windows and mirrors. Students can see themselves and their experiences in literature — as in a mirror, he said — and also see people who are different, giving them a new perspective and an empathetic experience — as through a window.

“The goal was to build more inclusive classrooms,” Garcia said. “By using books that feature [inclusivity] as an effective tool to affirm diverse students’ identities, it also helps facilitates important conversations about equity and belonging.”

Part of the district’s equity plan is the incorporation of the Education Department’s My Brother’s Keeper program, a mentoring program for young adults. Elmont is currently the only school district in Nassau County that has been selected for the program, according to Spinnato.

District resident Simmonie Swaby Gordon, an advocate of the DEI plan, commended the district for developing a robust program. She said she viewed the program as an opportunity for Elmont to set the standard on Long Island. “Long Island school districts are overdue for a diversity reckoning,” Swaby Gordon told the Herald. “I really think Elmont can shine here. I’m sure we will struggle to some degree, but I think that can be avoided somewhat if the district is really serious about DEI, and that they do practice what’s in the plan. What we can measure matters, so measuring progress is crucial, and transparency with stakeholders is paramount.”

She added that she hoped the district would hire a dedicated, experienced DEI practitioner, which would allow leaders like Garcia and Spinnato to focus more on creating a rigorous curriculum.

“DEI is tough work,” Swaby Gordon said. “Having a fully dedicated person demonstrates the school’s commitment to real change in diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.”

Elmont Superintendent Kenneth Rosner said that he was committed to having challenging, much-needed conversations about race. “Those conversations will look different for elementary schools compared to our high school students, and we have to be sensitive to that,” Rosner said. “This is a real plan that’s forward-thinking and ever-changing. I want our community to know that we’re truly dedicated to this.”

The full presentation can be viewed at bit.ly/3mYXSZv.