At a March 7 work session, a majority of Osseo Area School Board members said they would not support continued
funding for diversity and equity training provided by Pacific Educational Group and Courageous Conversations in the Achievement and Integration for Minnesota budget. Rather, they would prefer to decrease funding levels in the near future and move diversity and equity training in-house.
The decision comes after the district adopted a racial equity policy Nov. 22, 2016.
Pacific Educational Group is a national consulting firm that has provided racial equity training to several districts in the state. The firm has contracted with Osseo Area Schools to provide training sessions called Beyond Diversity and Beyond Diversity II. Training participants also read “Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools,” by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton. Singleton is the founder of Pacific Educational Group.
Superintendent Kate Maguire said all district staff members in leadership positions have been required to attend both training sessions. The district initially contracted with Pacific because it offered a systemic approach to change that began by training leaders, she said.
Board members expressed concern with the budget after a Feb. 7 work session. The proposed budget allocated $85,750 to Pacific for consulting and license fees. The budget also allocated $38,100 for staff members to attend Pacific national and regional summit meetings. The funding would come out of the $4.4 million state funded Achievement and Integration for Minnesota budget.
Rev Hillstrom, director of educational equity, said Pacific provides a unique service, in that their programs provide a comprehensive protocol for fostering difficult conversations about race. No other product with such a framework exists, he said.
“What we understood is that in order to be able to move to racial equity we have to have a framework, a protocol to be able to have conversations about it,” said Astein Osei, assistant superintendent.
“Under my leadership, PEG serves one primary function – to help us engage, deepen and sustain conversations about race,” Hillstrom said.
“One of the most difficult things as it relates to race is even being able to A) acknowledge that it exists and B) have conversations, and have conversations in a way that people feel safe, that they can stay engaged and speak their truth … understanding that there’s going to be discomfort associated with that and also knowing that we’re not going to get it solved overnight,” Osei said.
While board members expressed a need for racial equity work in the district and sustained training, Boardmember Jim Burgett was the only one to support keeping the entire proposed funding level for Pacific in the budget.
Boardmember Robert Gerhart said the board has received phone calls and emails both in support and opposition of Pacific’s programing. He said as an elected official, he didn’t feel comfortable supporting such a polarizing program. Pacific’s consulting work has resulted in problems in other school districts, he said.
“This is not the stuff we should be putting into our racial equity work,” Gerhart said.
The programs provided by Pacific do not serve the entire population, and can reinforce stereotypes, he said.
“I think you’re actually establishing stereotypes where none may have existed before,” he said.
Gerhart said he would support a budget with reduced funding and specific end date for funding Pacific’s programming.
Boardmember Jessica Craig said the funding allocated to Pacific would be better spent in classrooms than on professional development. There is no evidence that the training provided by Pacific is helping to close the racial achievement gap, she said.
Pacific’s work has not produced results, as 18 schools in the district did not reduce their achievement gap based on 2016 multiple measurement results data, said Boardmember Mike Ostaffe. He said he would support reduced spending on Pacific.
“We need to pull this in-house. We need to have a plan that says we’re going to do more of this in-house, and we’re going to ramp down our outside consultants and do it quickly,” he said.
Hillstrom said the cost to create a new in-house system for sustaining dialogue similar to Pacific’s framework would be more expensive than the proposed budget items on the 2018 budget.
“One American-Indian child … who doesn’t succeed in our system, and finds themselves not able to engage in conversations about race and their identity, and removes themselves from our schools, will cost our society far more than $85,000,” Hillstrom said. The budget staff presented this year was reduced from the previous year, he said.
Ostaffe said rather than focus on one student, the district needs to consider the larger picture of the district’s achievement gap.
Osei said it would be short-sighted to assume a causational relationship between any one specific program and closing or expanding the achievement gap.
Boardmember Stephanie Fortner said Pacific’s work does not provide anything for teachers to bring back to students in the classroom. “I don’t understand how this PEG training, as a teacher myself for the past 10 years, with the majority of my children being from students of other cultures than my own, this training … is not information that is helpful for me to bring back to my classroom, to help them learn what they need to learn,” she said.
“For me, it’s more about training … to use in the classroom,” Fortner said. “I need it to be useful, to bring it back to my students, and be relevant to what I’m doing with them in the classroom, not making me feel bad because of the color of my skin,” she added. “I’m going to teach a child that’s purple, white, green, brown, black—no matter what. I believe in those children. I will teach them no matter what.”
Fortner said she would not support a budget with any funding for Pacific’s programs.
Boardmember Heather Douglas said equity work needs to be shifted in-house.
“I just don’t see the need to continue using Pacific Education Group when we have this many highly qualified people that can do the work,” she said. She would support reduced funding, she said.
“If there’s something in the way between where we are and where we need to be, we need to address it,” said Burgett, who supported the funding for Pacific’s programing as proposed in the budget. “I’m not necessarily going to micromanage our department and say, ‘I want you to do this really important work, which we all agree is very important and needs to get done. You need to do this work, but I’m going to tell you what you can and cannot use.’
“I don’t want to go and reach into their toolbox and say, ‘This is a tool that you found really useful, [that] you’ve evaluated and you like, but you don’t get to use that because it made me feel uncomfortable,’” he added.
Maguire said a revised budget with lower funding levels for Pacific will be brought back to the board.
Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, said he supports Pacific’s work. He said it is the wrong time to ramp down spending on Pacific’s programs.
“The work of this vendor has helped the district to understand and come to grips with the blind spots around the issue of race,” he said. “This helped them to see our experience differently and appreciate that, because this is a space that includes different cultures, different races, if you do not make this space welcoming … you cannot change the result.”
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]