District 158 establishes diversity task force helmed by Memorial principal Keli Ross

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Memorial Jr. High student Isis Barret-Rogers receives her diploma in the spring of 2021 from (left to right): Memorial Principal Dr. Keli Ross, District 158 School Board Vice President Abi Duran, Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling, and Board Secretary Denise Williams. (Photo provided)
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“We know that some of the conversations may be uncomfortable, but I think we can do that in a respectful manner where we can achieve growth.”

by Jim Masters

LANSING. Ill. (August 26, 2021) — A committee of teachers, school staff, parents, students and members of the community coming together for the purpose of defining, discussing, and addressing matters of inclusion and diversity across Lansing School District 158 — that’s the intent behind the launch of District 158’s new inclusion and diversity task force as the schools embark on a new academic year.

Dr. Nathan Schilling, Superintendent of Schools, said that social unrest in society today and a “desire to just do better for everybody” is the impetus behind the task force.

“We are kind of overdue for this work, and we really didn’t do much to it prior to me starting here,” he said. “There seems to be a real interest from within our stakeholder groups — our teachers, staff, parents, school board, and some of the community groups I’ve heard from. So, the timing is right, and we really need to start gaining ground on this.”

Schilling did not point to any particular problems involving inclusion, diversity, or race relations within the district, yet he believes the task force can identify where improvements can be made and prompt action.

“We are just getting the task force off the ground, but I think we can achieve more equity in terms of test scores and student performance from some of the student subgroups that traditionally might not have performed quite as well as others,” Schilling said. “My hope is that the task force will be able to identify key issues within the district and then put some initiatives together to address those.”

Memorial principal leads task force

Schilling appointed Memorial Junior High Principal Dr. Keli Ross to lead the task force when he initially conceived the idea in 2020.

Explaining his choice, Schilling said, “We were all still home in the midst of COVID and there were a couple of times when we had our administrative team meetings where she spoke very intelligently and very passionately about this subject. I just knew that she was the right person to entrust our district as we move forward with this very important work.”

Ross said the primary purpose of the task force is to ensure the district is doing everything it can through its output of learning and policies to support students from all backgrounds. She envisions a mix of small and large group meetings to dig deep into the issues, and wants to ensure balanced representation from across the district as well as the Lansing community. She believes the task force will eventually be composed of about two-dozen people, students included.

District 158
Memorial Jr. High Principal Dr. Keli Ross will lead D158’s diversity and inclusion task force. (Screenshot from Memorial virtual graduation, May 2021)

Ross hopes to have representation from teachers in place by the end of September or early October, with more people added on as working groups are formed.

A passion for inclusion and diversity

Ross noted her background growing up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood as helping inform her interests and insights into equality, both educationally and economically.

“It’s always important to look at other points of view and make sure we’re doing everything we can to be inclusive,” she said. “Being in a position as an educational leader, I want to make sure that our students have access to all the educational resources they need to live out their dreams and become a productive part of the community.”

Ross believes that District 158 and the Lansing community at large are more than up to the task.

“When I first came here I found the community to be just that, a real community where everyone was very engaged and concerned about the wellbeing of its members and wanting Lansing to succeed,” she said. “I found Lansing just a very warm and loving community. I’ve been here over a decade now and still feel that way.”

The task force will not take a band-aid approach to addressing any particular issues, as it will continue to grow, evaluate, and evolve, says Ross.

“I think one form of success would be just the involvement of the different stakeholders sharing their thoughts and having open conversations,” she said. “We know that some of the conversations may be uncomfortable, but I think we can do that in a respectful manner where we can achieve growth.”

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