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November 9, 2021 | WE-SIDE Update from Dr. Mike Lucas

Posted November 9, 2021

To the Westside Community:

Hopefully by now, you’ve heard about WE-SIDE. It stands for Welcoming Equity Support Inclusion Dignity Everyone. This communication is meant to give you an update on what we’re up to.

Our focus for WE-SIDE is actually very simple. We want all our students, staff and visitors to feel like they belong at Westside.  We want to...

  • Create a culture with a true sense of T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More)
    • Strengthen our “sense of belonging” for students, staff and community members
      • Support each other and root for one another as “teammates”
        • Become a better organization with better academic and social outcomes

This is not politically motivated. We are not trying to push an agenda of any sort. We are not latching onto any one theory or organization or individual speaker. Our school district, community, and nation seem to have lots of divisive walls from political affiliation to skin color to religion to gender to socio-economic status, to differences in intellectual and physical abilities, and more.

We simply want to…

  • Promote the power of acceptance and belonging for all
    • Be great human beings who demonstrate kindness and tolerance
      • Learn about and accept the things that make us different
        • Focus on the things that connect us

What we’ve accomplished and what we’re currently working on

  • We are emphasizing a “sense of belonging” throughout our new 5-Year Strategic Plan that was released in August and takes us through 2026. Click here to learn more.
    • Goal 1: Student Achievement and Well-Being -- All students will learn in an environment where adults know their students and focus on the work that best promotes their learning. Students are encouraged to excel academically, challenged to think, and are valued as individuals with diverse needs.  (Academic research has long suggested a strong correlation between students with a sense of belonging and better academic outcomes).
      • 1.1 Grow and nurture a district culture that values, demonstrates, and promotes a sense of belonging and dignity for all by embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
    • Goal 2: Supported and Engaged Staff -- District leaders will be innovative in attracting, selecting, developing, and retaining excellent staff in a quality work environment. All staff members will learn and grow in a culture where everyone belongs.
      • 2.1  Cultivate diverse applicant pools reflective of our student demographics, and select the best, high-quality candidates.
      • 2.2  Provide a safe/welcoming work environment that fosters belonging/engagement.
  • We’ve prioritized self-awareness, implicit bias, and a “sense of belonging” for all with our district’s professional development initiatives for this year and the coming years.
    • We had John Krownapple, author of “Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity”, speak to all staff this past August.  He continues to work with teams in each building throughout the year.
    • On our October 18th Professional Development Day, we had presenters from Inclusive Communities come in to lead sessions on personal identities, social identities, and bias.
    • At our upcoming January and February professional development days, teams in each building will be given time to work collaboratively to process and develop action plans based on themes from our “sense of belonging” surveys mentioned below. 
  • We conducted “sense of belonging” surveys with our 3rd-12th grade students and staff this past fall to establish some baseline data. We have broken down our data by racial demographics through various question categories dealing with “acceptance,” “being treated fairly,” “feeling appreciated,” and “feeling validated.”  We are looking for discrepancies and themes to address.
  • Established WE-SIDE Student Group(s) at WHS and are working on WMS next. Our student voices need to be heard and included in all we do as we move forward with WE-SIDE.
  • We have increased the number of Unified Activities we offer throughout our entire school district. Unified Activities is an inclusive program that focuses on students with intellectual disabilities partnering with students without intellectual disabilities.
  • Analyzing student discipline and suspension data and class enrollments in various courses like EY, AP, etc. by different demographics.  We want to make sure we are maximizing opportunities for ALL kids. 
  • For the first time in District 66 history, all 13 of our schools will earn “No Place for Hate” distinction from the Anti-Defamation League. In order to receive this distinction, each school has to conduct several trainings, develop a school-wide student committee, sign a pledge and complete approved activities.
  • We adopted an anti-hate / racial slur policy in July 2021 to ensure that we provide consequences and education for those who use hateful language. Click here to learn more.
  • We provided training for all WMS and WHS fall activity participants and their coaches/sponsors on the importance of acceptance and belonging through teamwork and competition.
  • We have established focused WE-SIDE workgroups that will dive into specific components of our belonging work, to include an ongoing curriculum analysis.  These workgroups are centered around the main components of our Strategic Plan: Student Achievement and Well-Being; Supported and Engaged Staff; Culturally Responsive Partnerships; and Safety/Finance/Infrastructure.
  • We held two “Digital Citizenship” community forums this past fall because the “sense of belonging” we are working hard to create and maintain can be hampered by things that occur on social media. Click here to watch forum.
  • Our Board of Education passed a Resolution on Equity in June 2020. Click here to read the resolution.
  • We hosted “Community Dialogues” with Inclusive Communities on November 2nd and 8th, discussed WE-SIDE and received feedback from attendees on what we can work on to get better. 

Ways for YOU to get involved

  • Join a WE-SIDE workgroup! The workgroup focus areas include Student Achievement and Well-Being; Supported and Engaged Staff; Culturally Responsive Partnerships; and Safety/Finance/Infrastructure. If you are interested in joining a group, please email molly.hurley@westside66.net.
  • Invite a WE-SIDE Committee member to speak at your school's Community Club meeting.
  • Visit our WE-SIDE page on our website and view the resources we have to discuss with family and friends. Click here.

In closing, we see WE-SIDE as extremely important culture work for our school district. This is not a “one and done” initiative. This priority of “belonging for all” is as much a part of our school district’s priorities as math, science, and language arts. Westside has led the way in numerous areas since we were formed in March 1947, and we can lead the way with this important mindset as well.  There’s no better place to be than Westside Community Schools!

Mike Lucas 

Westside Community Schools
Innovation-Community-Excellence 
(402) 390-2100