The Sequoia Union High School Board of Trustees on Wednesday got a lesson on racial bias and cultural sensitivity ahead of their search for the next leader of the district following the departure of Darnise Williams, the first Black female superintendent the district has ever had.
To get in “the right frame of mind” before they embark on their search for Williams’ successor, trustees said they opted to attend an anti-bias training to prevent personal biases from affecting their decisions during the hiring process.
In a two and half hour special board meeting, trustees heard from consultant Daniel Moirao of Nicole Anderson and Associates Consulting on ways the district could first identify and assess equity gaps, either personal or within the district.
Challenging the trustees, Moirao asked them to consider racial and educational equity gaps within the district.
“Think about achievement, think about discipline, think about attendance, think about staffing, and engagement,” he said, adding that one exercise he’d tried in the past was to assess student-to-staff demographics to see, “where’s the mismatch?”
Trustees were asked to watch a video that used the example of a high school track field with runners of various races to, according to Moirao, highlight how white individuals were afforded privilege over individuals of color, who in many cases, stumbled over roadblocks that slowed them down or prevented them from reaching the finish line.
At the Jan. 18 special board meeting, trustees heard from Eric Andrews of Leadership Associates, the recruiter tapped by the district to find the next superintendent.
One request that came up several times by community members in the weeks leading up to the Jan.18 meeting—and was reiterated by Trustee Shawneece Stevenson at that meeting— was the level of transparency parents and district staff should expect during the superintendent search.
Community members, parents and staff were highly critical of trustees due to the abrupt departure of Williams; many accused the board of anti-Blackness, a lack of transparency and upholding white supremacy, and believed that the board had forced out Williams.
Williams’ departure came after the installation of the new board of trustees. It was a move that previous board members said they did not see coming. Williams, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, received a severance of $299,000 upon her departure
At Wednesday’s meeting, when asked what advice Moirao had for trustees heading into their search for the right candidate, Moirao said they should consider reviewing resumes and applications with the last names blocked out.
“Often we start to form an opinion based on somebody's name,” he said.
The trustees said they might consider sitting down and assessing their own personal biases in a private session as a board at a later date.