Diversity. Inclusiveness. Equity.
These are core tenants of The Museum School and are essential to the success of its students.
Groups across the school community _ from staff and parents to the Governing Board _ have been working in partnership to make substantial gains toward creating a community that works for justice and celebrates differences.
“The Museum School’s mission and core values are around real-world success and cooperation, responsibility, respect and kindness,” said Executive Director Katherine Kelbaugh. “We feel responsible as adults to identify areas where we don’t feel there is equity within the school and to address it.”
Soon after the charter school opened in 2010 in Avondale Estates, a student recruitment committee of parent volunteers turned its attention to identifying underserved communities in the immediate area.
What began as postcards sent to prospective students has grown into a robust operation that involves partnerships with community organizations like The Salvation Army, knocking on doors, informational sessions at local churches and day care centers and multiple open houses at the school.
“The goal is to have a community-based charter school, and that community is not just the Avondale area but Peachcrest, too,” said parent Kelly Swinks, chair of the Governing Board and member of the Diversity Committee. “That inclusivity is paramount to our efforts.”
School administrators have sought to understand and address barriers that may exist in recruiting a socially and economically diverse student population.
That work has included efforts to streamline the application process, reducing the amount of documentation needed to apply and creating a simple, online form. In recent years, the school has opened its doors after hours to create an opportunity for prospective parents who may need assistance in completing the application or have questions about the process. Each year, some 30 families from the community have participated in these events.
To ensure parents have a variety of options when it comes to selecting an Open House date, the school offers 5 Open Houses, spread out over three months, and scheduled on a variety of days of the week and times of the day.
Looking ahead, to include an even broader group of prospective parents, all Open Houses will be live-streamed and recorded beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.
STAFF PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
Meanwhile, school administrators have brought in two consultants to work primarily with the staff to facilitate dialogue on diversity and develop strategies for a long-term commitment to living out these principles. The effort has involved self-assessments, regular staff meetings and training workshops.
“From when we first started scratching the surface on this work to now, we have just had tremendous growth among the staff,” Kelbaugh said. “It’s really just opened up our minds and eyes up to things we can be looking at and thinking about.”
In the months ahead, teachers will be conducting equity audits of classroom libraries to ensure diversity not only of stories and characters but authors and themes. It’s just one part of a broader effort looking at teaching methods, curriculum and interactions between students and staff.
“What we know is that being exposed to diverse environments keeps one’s mind expansive,” said consultant McKenzie Wren. “If you are in a majority or dominant culture, you think your story is utmost important. And if you are a child of a historically marginalized group, then you begin to think your history is not important because it’s not being taught. It strengthens everybody to provide multiple, different opportunities and perspectives to learn about.”
The Governing Board has formed a Diversity Committee to recommend strategies and monitor the school’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness. As part of its five-year charter agreement with DeKalb County, The Museum School has specific goals related to increasing the socio-economic diversity of its student population, staff and its board.
As part of this, school officials have looked at staff recruitment to ensure job postings are placed in varied publications and includes job fairs highlighting candidates with diverse backgrounds. This has resulted in an increase in the number of new hires with experience working in socially and economically diverse communities similar to the one The Museum School serves.
“Making sure our students feel like the teachers in the school represent them, that they have a voice through their teachers and a teacher that looks like them is important,” Kelbaugh said.
Parents play a key role, serving as partners with school officials in a shared commitment to challenging students and the status quo. A series of parent sessions have been scheduled, seeking to bring together diverse perspectives with the goal of building a culture that embraces social justice.
A key priority for the school and the Governing Board is exploring ways to reduce socio-economic barriers that may exist, including a proposal to provide transportation from satellite bus stops across the attendance zone.
Last school year, the Governing Board added funding to a program overseen by the principal that is available discreetly to families who may need help covering the costs of classroom materials, books and field trips.
All this underscores the school’s ongoing commitment, Kelbaugh said. “There are always opportunities to grow, from a student and staff and Governing Board perspective,” Kelbaugh said. “This is absolutely not an ‘attend one training, wrap it up and you are done’ situation. This will evolve over the years.”
More information about The Museum School, its staff and the students it serves can be found at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement: