The Wake County school system is on its way to hiring its new head of equity and diversity, or what Superintendent Jim Merrill calls “a conscience for the organization.”
Merrill briefed the school board on Tuesday on the status of filling the new position of Assistant Superintendent for Equity Affairs. The school board had allocated $218,478 for the Office of Equity And Diversity in this year’s budget before Merrill was hired.
According to the job description, “the position is responsible for developing and implementing short and long range cultural diversity, equity and respect; and achieving the school system’s strategic goals and objectives related to diversity in support of the Superintendent and School Board.”
The minimum qualifications for the position include:
• Working knowledge of issues related to diversity, cultural proficiency, recruitment, and equity affairs.
• Ability to work with diverse populations within the organization and the community.
• Ability to manage thoughtfully the personal interest and commitment diversity, multiculturalism, and issues of equity.
While the new office only initially calls for two people, Merrill said that it will expand over time.
Merrill laid out his expectations for the new assistant superintendent, who will report directly to him and be a member of his cabinet.
“It will be a position that will join in the discussion on policies, committees, data and reporting and training and development and PLTs [professional learning teams] and a little bit of everything,” Merrill told the board. “Huge for one person, but they’ll be doing a lot of exploration as they go. And then also a point person to sort of respond to groups or individuals.
Almost, I wouldn’t say a hotline, but an advocate from inside the system on issues that need to be brought to leadership/the board. So it’s really very much a catch-all position. It will develop as we go and you will be interacting or seeing a lot of the person I think and be able to shape that as well.”
School board vice chairman Tom Benton said he expects the new top administrator will be focused on closing the achievement gap and improving the graduation rate, particularly for populations whose graduation rates are “not at acceptable levels.” He asked how the position’s effectiveness will be measured.
Merrill cautioned that while the person will be at the table for discussions, he doesn’t want the individual tied down on any one issue.
“There are going to be so many things that I expect this person to cover,” Merrill said. “They may not be as much of a doer as they are an observer, an adviser, a collector. If they get too mired in one thing then they don’t have the mobility I need. Involvement in departments, a conscience for the organization. Those sorts of phrases come to mind. A pest.”
School board member Bill Fletcher quipped that the person would be “Merrill’s gadfly.”
School board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said the new person would bridge gaps with the community. Johnson-Hostler added that the person would address one of her personal concerns by helping “pay attention to the language of hidden bias.”
“That’s going to huge for all of your instruction,” Johnson-Hostler continued. “For textbooks alone, this changes the dynamics to be able to talk about that.”
Merrill said the position will be posted after the holidays.
“It will be an interesting search and a difficult one,” Merrill said. “But a lot of people will be interested.”