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Central Kitsap School District targets diversity to spur 'achievement'

The Central Kitsap School District’s class of 2008 showcased the district’s diversity, which extends beyond the common themes of race, religion and ethnicity. - Jesse Beals/file photo 2008
The Central Kitsap School District’s class of 2008 showcased the district’s diversity, which extends beyond the common themes of race, religion and ethnicity.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo 2008

Ask Central Kitsap School District (CKSD) Superintendent Greg Lynch for his definition of diversity and you won’t get a black and white answer. Or a yellow and brown or any other colorful answer for that matter.

Instead you’ll discover Lynch’s definition of diversity is broader than race, gender or ethnicity, it’s all those things which make students different and play major roles in how they achieve in the classroom.

“The reason for the focus on diversity is about student achievement and that’s our No. 1 goal,” Lynch said.

A look at student achievement throughout the district reveals disparities in student achievement that go beyond race and can be seen between male and female students, he said.

“We have a very significant achievement gap because of our diverse population,” Lynch said, adding that while African-Americans are used as an example on a regular basis, there are other groups which also are part of that achievement gap the district is working to close.

That’s where the district’s diversity planning team, which is compromised of faculty and staff members in every district department and building, comes into play with district diversity specialist Leah Kyaio. She serves as the hub of the district’s diversity wheel with diversity team leaders serving as the spokes in the effort to pave the way for positive learning environments throughout the district.

“Diversity has a lot of different meanings and it’s the idea of being inclusive as opposed to color blind,” Kyaio said, adding each group brings something different to a community that enhances the community.

Kyaio’s hiring came as the result of a districtwide discussion about diversity, which brought in several community groups and members, as the need for someone to coordinate the district’s diversity efforts was identified, said CKSD Executive Director of Human Resources Jeanne Beckon, who chairs the district’s diversity advisory committee along with Kyaio.

As the district’s diversity specialist, Kyaio said much of her work involves empowering the diversity team leaders in most departments and each school with the tools they need to effectively deal with diversity issues and create positive learning environments.

“Probably the No. 1 challenge is creating a level playing field because everyone is at a different point in understanding diversity,” she said.

One of the first steps in understanding and accepting diversity is for people to do an honest self-assessment about their own personal biases and views toward people who are different from themselves, she said.

From that critical first step comes the building blocks to learn basic skills to promote diversity acceptance and awareness. Because no one solution is perfect for every situation, Kyaio said diversity team leaders are given a toolbox of skills to use in dealing with any number of diversity scenarios.

A perfect example of how a diversity team leader put those tools into practice occurred at one of the district’s three junior high schools during No Name Calling Week, which took place Jan. 26-30, Beckon said.

“During that week, students and staff were amazed at how much of an impact that had because they weren’t aware there was so much of that going on,” Beckon said.

CKSD Interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dan Dizon credits each of the district’s diversity team leaders for improving the handling of diversity, although the district’s executives are the most recognized by the public.

“The DTLs (diversity team leaders) have stood up for it (diversity) and it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen,” Dizon said.

As the district’s primary point of contact for textbooks and other classroom materials, Dizon said the district does its best to ensure diversity is included in those materials. Before a final decision is made on what texts to use, those materials are reviewed by a committee that includes groups from across the community who represent different backgrounds and views.

When there are shortcomings in those texts, Kyaio said the district has supplemental materials that teachers are encouraged to use to provide the proper balance in the classroom environment.

That goes hand-in-hand with the district’s improvement plan (DIP), which has specific goals in areas of student achievement, Dizon said.

“What we’re finding is our DTLs are working together to find solutions because no size fits all,” he said.

Another key element of the district’s emphasis on diversity is the positive relationships it’s built with the community, students and staff, Dizon said.

To that end, everyone within the district has access to all of the resources available under the over-reaching issue of diversity and through those have an opportunity to embrace it, Kyaio said.

A new element to the district’s diversity program has been a pilot mentoring program, which placed 90 adult mentors with students in kindergarten through 12th grade, she said.

“That made a lot of progress in closing the achievement gap,” she said, noting research has shown the value of students having an adult mentor during their academic careers.

Those mentors specifically addressed issues like discipline and school attendance and so far the results have been positive, she said.

At the end of the day, Kyaio and the rest of the district staff know they have little control over the amount of diversity within the district as families move in and out of the area with the military and other employers. So, instead of attempting to forecast the ethnic or racial composition of the district, their focus is on “being prepared for every situation that might arise,” Kyaio said.

Information about the district’s diversity program can be found on the district’s Web site at www.cksd.wednet.edu.

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