In the past month, Director of Equity and Inclusion Victor Cota has led a series of meetings and conversations with the Board of Trustees, Tartan Alumni Council, and the professional, parent and student communities to introduce three priority areas of focus for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) this year in health and well-being, cultural competency and community. Developed in partnership with Head of School Will Moseley, Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem, the academic leadership principals team and the Equity Team, these priorities build on and will continue to advance the DEI work of the past decade serving the needs of students and the school community, as well as the educational goals of the school.
Priority No. 1: Health and Well-Being
Mr. Cota says, “First and foremost, DEI work at St. Margaret’s is grounded in the health and well-being of our students. We believe that the St. Margaret’s experience promotes positive, healthy lives. We want every Tartan to be well physically, emotionally, and spiritually; to experience a sense of belonging; and to connect to their community. DEI work provides an important mechanism by which we can ensure that every student is healthy and can access the full school experience.”
1. Increase Counseling Office-Chaplain-DEI Office collaboration to further solidify the connection between health and well-being, spirituality, and DEI work.
2. Launch optional, student-driven affinity groups in the Upper School as a means of deepening students’ sense of belonging and explore similar opportunities for students in the younger divisions.
3. Regularly communicate about DEI initiatives and the ways they are strengthening the school’s health and well-being priority.
4. For the professional community, deepen efforts to ensure health, well-being, and retention, especially given the impact of the pandemic on educators.
Priority No. 2: Cultural Competency
“Every Tartan is developing their own cultural competency. Cultural competency is about developing the skillsets to interact with others across lines of difference. We see it as an imperative that we nurture and graduate students from St. Margaret’s who are more culturally competent because of their time at the school,” said Mr. Cota.
Cultural competency can be taught in and out of the classroom, and it must be modeled by the educators in the school environment. Students who develop cultural competency skills will exhibit inclusivity, behave equitably, and strive for justice, in their time at St. Margaret’s and in the future.
1. Re-engage the language, mindset, and skillset of cultural competency in age-appropriate ways across all four divisions.
2. Continue to implement Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards.
3. Deepen our instructional commitment to culturally responsive teaching, a pedagogical approach to meeting the diverse needs of students in the classroom.
4. Continue language justice efforts that celebrate and meet the needs of a multilingual community, such as our translation and interpretation system.
Priority No. 3: Our Communities
St. Margaret’s strives to engage meaningfully with its communities, and several overlapping communities are represented at St. Margaret’s. “In recent years, as St. Margaret’s has deepened its commitment to DEI work, we have learned more about the needs of our various communities, and therefore, we need to differentiate our approach for each of our communities,” Mr. Cota said.
- Student community: for our student community, we will focus on culturally responsive teaching in the classroom and regular cultural competency development.
- Professional community: for our professional community, we will continue developing DEI practitionership and engage in meaningful ways to bring cultural competency into the various roles represented on campus.
- Parent community: for the parent community, we will focus on clear and regular communication about DEI work on campus and how it impacts their children’s school experience; a subset of our parents also hopes to engage personally in DEI work.
- Alumni community: for our alumni community, much like our parent community, the emphasis will be on clear and regular communication about DEI work on campus and how the school continues to evolve; a subset of alumni hopes to engage personally in the school’s efforts.
- Local external community: we will continue to build partnerships and re-engage with our local external community, we will look for opportunities to deepen our service learning program, and we will further the work of our hosted programs, Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano and Special Camp.
1. Restart the full service-learning program as we return to an environment where we can re-engage with our local community, with a focus on experiential learning.
2. Continue the important work of Breakthrough SJC and Special Camp, and find meaningful ways for Tartan students to get involved.
3. In partnership with the PTF, increase opportunities for parents to engage with the school’s DEI work.
4. Continue to deepen the Alumni Council’s DEI focus and efforts to engage with our alumni network.
5. Maintain a focus on hiring diversity, in the spirit of demographic
* * *
These priorities and initiatives carry forward a decade of increased, continual and significant focus and advancement in diversity, equity and inclusion at St. Margaret’s.
In 2013, St. Margaret’s created a diversity and inclusivity task force to specifically analyze and inform the upcoming strategic plan process about this important aspect of the school community. As a result, the 2016 Strategic Plan outlined several DEI goals and priorities focused on belonging, equity, justice, health and well-being.
Some of the initiatives that followed include, the nationwide search and hiring of a director of equity and inclusion, Mr. Cota, and the formation of a professional community Equity Team in 2018. The Equity Team works in subcommittees on the incorporation of the Learning for Justice anti-bias framework, culturally responsive teaching, advocacy for our LGBTQ+ community, language justice, and data and measurement.
In 2019, the Board of Trustees formalized Equity and Inclusion as an institutional Core Value
stating: “we embrace and celebrate the identity of every human being, and advocate for equity, inclusion and justice.”
Last school year, the work continued with a strong focus on equity and inclusion amid the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, St. Margaret’s held a full-day DEI Symposium for the Professional Community, including DEI workshops and panels led by the 52-member Equity Team. In the spring, a DEI survey was administered to Upper School students to better understand experiences and perceptions and to identity differences among demographic groups. Ethnographic research was also completed with Upper School students, faculty, parents and alumni around belonging and the need to support students with common identities. The Equity Team also launched affinity groups for the professional community and further utilized the design thinking process to understand how to best launch student affinity groups.
Mr. Moseley said: “Pursuing diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and cultural competency is foundational to who we are, to our Episcopal identity, guiding everything we do and our outlook for the future. I sincerely believe this is the most impactful work we do as a school community, threaded through all aspects of the education of our young people. These priorities demonstrate our longstanding commitment and the advancement of equity and inclusion within our community and help ensure that all our students are seen, love and respected.”