On Monday, December 14, Brentwood School, a private K-12, kicked off a year-long diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiative with an online keynote event. The project includes multiple segments: community forums; surveys of students, staff, parents/guardians and alumni experiences; dialogue sessions; a curriculum review; and DEI consulting. It will culminate in a multiyear strategic plan that includes new staff training, accountability systems, and further initiatives at the Southern California independent school.
“We want Brentwood to be a place of safety, equity, and respect for every single student,” Brentwood Head of School Dr. Michael Riera said, “Where our differences can make us better and where all feel welcome.”
This summer, with a national backdrop of racial justice activism, momentum for change at Brentwood School accelerated. Social media postings from alumni and families via #NoBlackoutBrentwood, active engagement from the school’s Black Family Association, and an open letter to the school evolved into on-campus dialogue and action. In the last five years especially, private U.S. schools like Brentwood have experienced DEI flashpoints where a bias event spilled into social media, often going viral and creating demand for change.
The Brentwood School initiative’s first phase will gather the perspectives and experiences of students, parents and guardians, faculty, staff, and alumni. It will also assess Brentwood’s social environment, curricula, communication practices, and disciplinary policies. Based on analysis of this data, the second phase will create a multi-year strategic plan to improve the experiences of all students, faculty and staff in a manner that is informed by data, evidence, and social science in this area. That plan will begin implementation in fall of 2021.
Brentwood’s initiative represents another major step to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the highly regarded independent school. “This project is a direct response to DEI-related concerns and calls to action that have been raised by members of the Brentwood School community.” Riera said.
Previously launched DEI initiatives include creating a full-time Director of Equity and Inclusion position in 2016, adding a full-time Assistant Director of DEI in 2019, DEI-focused professional development, increased financial support for families with demonstrated need, successful hires of diverse staff and faculty, and DEI specialists embedded in each school division.
Said Brian Lee, Chair of the Brentwood School Board, “From a board perspective, we want Brentwood School to be a strategic leader in this work. This initiative is an important next step for our entire community, and we are excited for the journey that will follow.”
This summer, Brentwood’s board commissioned a new DEI committee to help advance their work and to ensure successful integration of this new initiative with existing DEI efforts taking place at the school. Co-chaired by Erica Lockhart, a Brentwood School alumna and parent of past Brentwood School students, and Walter Delph, a current parent to Brentwood School students, this committee considered 19 diversity consultant proposals, eventually choosing The Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation (CSDLSI), of Atlanta, Georgia to spearhead the initiative. Founded in 2009 by award-winning diversity pioneer and author of the best-selling books Strategic Diversity Leadership and The Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Damon A. Williams, the Center brings a diverse team of seasoned educational and DEI professionals to the project.
Dr. Williams previously served as Senior Vice President for Youth Development and Educational Achievement for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Associate Vice Chancellor for DEI at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He noted, “We look forward to partnering with Dr. Riera, with Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Trina Moore-Southall, and with the entire Brentwood community of students, families, faculty, staff, board, and administrators to create an environment that is inclusive and excellent for all.”
Updates on the initiative’s progress will be publicly accessible on the Brentwood School website, at www.bwscampus.com.