116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS -- The Cedar Rapids Community School District is working to increase a sense of belonging for staff and students by promoting diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
“Belonging” was defined as a priority for the district by the School Improvement Advisory Committee, which plays a role in establishing a close relationship between the school and community members, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said in a school board meeting Monday.
The committee’s primary purpose is to determine educational needs and make recommendations to the school board based on those needs.
A school climate survey last fall indicated 54 percent of staff feel a sense of belonging in their workplace, ranking Cedar Rapids schools nationally in the 20 to 29th percentile, according to board documents.
Cedar Rapids schools are above the 90th percentile with 69 percent of students in grades 3-5 feeling a sense of belonging which was called a “huge celebration point,” for the district, said Justin Blietz, secondary director of culture and climate transformation for the district.
“We’re doing really well at elementary level in terms of students feeling connected,” Blietz said.
That number, however, dips to 40 percent of students in grades 6-12, putting the district in the 0 to 19th percentile.
Questions for staff on the school climate survey included: How well do your colleagues at school understand you as a person? How connected do you feel to other adults in your school? How much respect do colleagues in your school show you? How much do you matter to others at your school? How much do you feel like you belong at your school?
“When staff feel a sense of belonging, students do too and vice versa. When we don’t feel that sense of belonging our students don’t either,” Kooiker said.
A new school climate survey is currently open to students and staff. Survey results will be available to district administrators at the end of the month.
District officials are working on the matter with professional development conducted by four equity coaches hired at the start of this school year.
The equity coaches create professional development opportunities based on academic, behavior, attendance and culture data, Kooiker said.
In their first year, the coaches are working with school administrators and instructional coaches to create more inclusive practices, Kooiker said.
An employee resource group has also been developed for staff who identify as Black or African America, Kooiker said.
Equity coaches debrief with school officials who take the Intercultural Development Inventory, a tool to help people better understand what biases they might have and work to be culturally responsive.
The district has a three-year plan for the four equity coaches to provide professional development to staff in every school building, Kooiker said.
The School Improvement Advisory Committee provides feedback to district officials based on data and experiences, and identifies priorities and co-creates vision with district officials.
It is made up of volunteers from the community whose demographics are representative of the district’s student population, Kooiker said.
Anyone is invited to join the group and can apply online at crschools.us.
Superintendent Noreen Bush said in the past the district had a person in human resources working on diversity, equity and inclusion from a “recruitment point of view.”
“We realized we needed to think more systemically,” Bush said. “This work is heavy, heavy lifting, and everyone has to put a hand in, and we might need to continue to grow the leadership of this work.”
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