Working Towards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Shaker

Dr. Lawrence Burnley leads the department, promoting DEI ideals

In July 2020, Shaker Heights Schools named Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder as the first Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The department was created in order to, “ensure that everything we do District-wide—learning and teaching, strategic planning, hiring, professional learning, technology, operations and communications—considers diversity, equity and inclusion”  according to the Shaker Heights DEI webpage.

In May 2021, Wilder resigned from her position as Executive Director of the DEI Department. That following November, Shaker Heights hired Dr. Lawrence Burnley as the new Chief Officer of the DEI department. Burnley is excited for what Shaker has in store. “The Shaker Heights Schools’ decision to make educational equity for all students across the District a strategic priority positions Shaker to be a national leader in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the K-12 space,” the Shaker Heights Alum said, who will overlook all aspects of the department. The department contains coordinators and specialists that focus on different aspects of diversifying Shaker schools.

One of the department’s current focus points is athletics, which has struggled with diversity in individual sports for years. DEI Coordinator Tiara Sargeant strives to diversify athletics at Shaker. “We are working with the athletics department to make sure that we are listening to the needs of students, listening to the needs of our coaches, parents and intentionally addressing all the issues.” She is excited about the prospect of transforming diversity in athletics and is hopeful that her department will be breaking barriers. Sargeant thinks that the DEI department’s new attitude towards systematic racism in athletics will benefit Shaker. “We are going to be proactive in addressing these issues and not reactive,” Sargeant, a 2014 Shaker graduate, said.

Sargeant says her experience in Shaker sparked her desire to address systemic racism. “When I was at the high school, I was a SGORR leader, I was a MAC scholar and I was in student council. I started to see a lot of the injustices and the systemic problems in a school district,” she said.

Sargeant feels blessed to be the DEI coordinator. “As the coordinator I have been able to really intersect my professional passions with my personal passions and really leverage my professional skills,” she said. 

Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Keith Langford works with Sargeant to enforce DEI ideals throughout the district and community, “He is engaging in the community, big things like helping ensure that students are going to school, why are they missing school and how can we fill in those gaps,” Sargeant said. 

The department also includes DEI Learning Specialist Dr. Nicole Patterson, who was an elementary school teacher for twenty years, with seven years at Boulevard Elementary School. Patterson’s role in education shined a light on the issues of the whitewashed curriculum she taught. “I saw the need to have more representation in the curriculum materials,” Patterson said, “I started to get interested in how the materials presented to us by curriculum companies and everything you are supposed to use to teach is really representing a very white eurocentric point of view and also a very upper class point of view.”

Patterson still strives to change the educational curriculum in Shaker, “I work very closely with our Curriculum Director, Dr. John Moore, about ways we can have a larger influence throughout the district regarding professional development, equity and more just lessons that represent marginalized groups in a positive way,” she said. Patterson also talks to teachers about how their curriculum can become more equitable and culturally relevant.

Both Patterson and Sargeant believe that the DEI department will provide a bright future for Shaker students. Patterson said, “They are going into society with other people and this is just our pathway to help make society better. If we can have an impact, where neighboring school districts are doing similar things, and we are able to help support them as well, I think that is going to help build up the surrounding communities and have an even greater impact on Cleveland.”

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