By The Gazette Editorial Board
On Monday evening, the Cedar Rapids school board voted to get the ball rolling on the formation of a new “diversity committee.” It would be a 10-member panel with members recommended by the district’s administration and approved by the school board. One member of the board and one district staff member would also join the committee.
The objective, according to the district, is to create a committee that will “provide independent review and oversight” of district policies related to diversity and provide a forum for a community discussion on issues and concerns. School Board President John Laverty pushed for creation of the board, along with Superintendent Dave Benson. Benson says creating the committee is “consistent with best practices” at top performing school districts.
We like the idea of creating such a committee. What we’d like even more is if the committee became a strong, independent voice willing to raise issues and critique district policy decisions.
Too often, governmental entities create committees to make it look like problems are being addressed, rather than doing the tough work of actually addressing them head-on. We believe that board members sincerely want to pursue solutions, and we sincerely hope that the Diversity Committee is more than public relations.
Because there are hefty diversity issues facing the district — chief among them the academic performance gaps between minority students and white classmates — gaps made wider and deeper by tough economic realities. Board members expressed concern this week that district efforts to close those gaps aren’t showing progress. Perhaps a committee of citizens from outside the district’s administrative bubble can suggest new approaches or challenge existing policies.
The school district is also embarking on a process aimed at making far-reaching decisions about the future of its facilities. We would expect a Diversity Committee to weigh in on the process, especially if more urban neighborhood schools are marked for closure.
Much depends on who sits on the committee. We urge the administration and school board to resist any temptation to play it safe with picks that won’t rock the boat. The Diversity Committee should have a diversity of viewpoints.
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