by ALEXANDRA RETTER
More information about a possible cultural liaison position will soon arrive at the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board table.
Board members asked Superintendent Annette Freiheit at their meeting last Thursday to bring forward this information after hearing recommendations about a cultural liaison position, including suggestions about position responsibilities and the development of a job description, from WAPS’ Diversity and Equity Committee (DEC). The information will be presented at the board’s next meeting.
School Board member Michael Hanratty voiced support for the establishment of a cultural liaison position in the near future. “I think next we just have to find a way to fund a cultural liaison recommendation,” Hanratty shared. “And I hope the administration is committed to that, and if the School Board needs to take action on it, I hope we can do that at the next board meeting.”
School Board member Allison Quam said that she agreed with Hanratty. “I understand we’re going to have budget issues because of the pandemic, but this is absolutely something we cannot be waiting for anymore,” Quam shared. “People have waited way too long to be represented. It’s really time, it’s past time, that we have different people in positions of leadership, in terms of who our students see every day. I was in college the first time I went to a school where someone wasn’t white. That’s wrong. I don’t want my kids to become adults and to have never had a staff person of color. I think that’s just a loss.”
Board member Jim Schul said he had further questions about the proposed responsibilities for a cultural liaison and how such a position would be funded. He noted that receiving additional details about these aspects of the potential position from Freiheit would be helpful. “We’re in the midst of an anti-racist revolution, and we need to do something,” Schul shared. “And I’m ready to act prudently and intelligently. I’d prefer if the superintendent had the space and time to propose something to us to consider rather than some sort of nebulous offering that we’re debating on.”
Quam asked whether the DEC could review job descriptions for open positions. Director of Human Resources Emily Solheid shared that the committee could, depending on when it was meeting and when an open position would need to be posted for candidates to apply. The DEC could be part of developing language for job descriptions that could be used with seeking diverse candidates for any vacant position, Quam said.
Board member Karl Sonneman agreed. “I don’t think it serves the district well to try to define a bright line between administration and all other functions,” Sonneman noted. “I would actually hope that we have an administration that welcomes involving itself with committees like DEC on matters like this and would reach out and incorporate them … I think we can do better, and I think the administration is better, frankly.”
Board member Steve Schild asked whether district committees other than DEC typically provide input on job descriptions for open positions. Solheid said the committees do not; rather, the human resources department, administrator supervising a position and superintendent generally review job descriptions for vacant positions.
DEC recommended that at least one paid, full-time cultural liaison be hired this school year to serve each building in the district. The committee also suggested that the person hired would ideally be a person of color and would preferably have a background in working with students and families of color.
DEC advised that a cultural liaison could be part of staff training related to issues faced by communities of color, creating affinity groups for parents and students of color and providing academic and behavioral support for students of color as well. Additionally, the committee recommended that various stakeholders, such as students of color, community members, district administration and DEC be involved in developing a job description and interview committee for a cultural liaison position.
Safety coaches postponed
The board also voted last Thursday to table moving ahead with hiring safety coaches at this time after Freiheit noted that she had budgetary concerns associated with costs from operating schools amid the pandemic. At the board’s August 20 meeting, Freiheit had proposed that student safety coaches be hired to assist with supervising common areas such as hallways, reinforcing positive student behavior, connecting with students and families and help with building security at the elementary schools. The coaches would take part in trainings about assorted topics, from de-escalation strategies to trauma-informed practices to implicit bias.
Four current safety specialists, two of whom are typically at the middle school and two of whom are usually at the high school, would be able to work at the elementary schools now instead, she said. The safety specialists would have their jobs shifted toward being safety coach positions.
During board members’ discussion of DEC’s cultural liaison recommendations, board member Tina Lehnertz asked whether safety coaches could be diversified and trained to complete some cultural liaison work.
Recruiting people of color should be considered for all vacant positions in the district, Quam noted. “One of the problems in our district is that we have a significant population of students of color, but we don’t have staff that represent the demographics of the district,” Quam shared. “So, every chance we get to recruit members of the Black community, the Indigenous community, any members of marginalized groups, that should be a proactive position every time. And there are ways to do it without violating employment opportunity laws.”
Freiheit explained that she would want to be cautious about combining aspects of a cultural liaison position with parts of a student safety coach position to ensure that, if the board were ultimately to decide to merge the positions, the concerns of students and families of color regarding law enforcement would be addressed.
“I would want to take the time to carefully vet out how that is crafted and designed so we do make sure that is isn’t a perception of just replacing law enforcement, because that isn’t what we’re trying to achieve,” Freiheit shared.
A cultural liaison could assist with developing curriculum, advocating for students and families of color and preparing safety staff members with implicit bias and cultural proficiency training, Schul said.
The board will next meet on Thursday, September 17, at 6 p.m. The meeting may be viewed at https://winonak12mnus.finalsite.com/district/school-board/live-stream. Members of the public may submit comments between 5:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. on the night of the meeting at https://forms.gle/AsjSw84r3NHyyN4L7.