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Unit 5 Commits To Sustained Work To Reduce Racial Disparity

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WGLT

Unit 5 schools recently rolled out a diversity action plan to address racial discrepancies and disparities, coupled with the release of a diversity audit of what the district already is doing. Deep cultural changes on inclusion will not happen overnight, acknowledged Superintendent Kristen Weikle.

Speaking on WGLT's Sound Ideas, Weikle said a sustained campaign to be more inclusive and to eliminate racial disparities — such as disproportionate suspensions — will take years of a team effort to get the district to a better place.

"This needs to be a part of the way that we work and think moving forward for years to come. Just myself or new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director Kristal Shelvin standing up and saying, 'This is important' — that's not going to get us there. What's going to get us there is having the majority of our staff really invested and involved," said Weikle.

Weikle said she was not really surprised by the audit results because the district already had reviewed data sent to the team doing the audit and were aware of other stories.

"We want them to reflect and then have conversations with one another about, 'Tell me about your experiences,' because their experiences are more than likely different than mine. That's how we learn and can grow and ultimately best serve our students," said Weikle

Weikle also said the conversation cannot just be top down. Staff professional development efforts also must be a self-directed exploration of a person's own biases.

Only when people talk with each other about their own biases will the district effect lasting change, said Weikle, adding internalizing the diversity action plan and the results of the audit is partly up to leadership to keep the issue front and center.

Enrollment

On another topic, Weikle said Unit 5 enrollment appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

"We have had an increase in our elementaries compared to last year. We have had to add back a couple of sections at the elementary level," she said.

During the pandemic, some parents took their children out of Unit 5 and put them in private schools that held classes in person. There was also some thought that kindergarten enrollment would be unusually high this year because parents might have held their children out and not started them when classes were virtual.

Weikle said the district will not have to add kindergarten sections.

"You know typically at kindergarten, we try to have those numbers smaller than maybe a fifth grade class size. Just by the nature of having more sections (to begin with), I think we were able to absorb some of those students that maybe didn't maybe start kindergarten last year who were age eligible," said Weikle.

With Rivian's continued hiring surge and if Samsung builds a battery plant in Normal, it's possible that in less than a decade the Twin Cities will have added more than 8,000 new manufacturing jobs. Some of those people will be living in Bloomington-Normal.

Even though some schools are getting close to capacity, Weikle doesn't think those potential new jobs will stress the system.

"Anytime there's a potential for a new company, particularly a large one, to come to our area, we are always thinking about, 'What will be the needs of the students and families that may reside in Unit 5?' Knowing that will probably be a great deal that would also be commuting and living regionally, so knowing that we wouldn't have a massive influx because we're only going to have the influx based on housing availability."

Weikle said more than likely, Unit 5 will see some growth, but will not be overstretched. She said assessing that impact won’t be important until, perhaps, a couple years from now.

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.