LCUSD Board, Families Briefed on DEI Practices

First published in the Dec. 9 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Four months into the school year and the La Cañada Unified School District is already taking big steps toward the implementation of its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.
The Governing Board held a special meeting on Tuesday to be counseled in restorative practices and culturally responsive education by Aaron Bruce, a consultant hired by the district six weeks ago to assist in La Cañada’s three-year DEI plan.
Bruce, who has more than 20 years of experience in DEI initiatives and programs, gave a similar presentation to parents in a family learning series event Tuesday night and to the LCUSD DEI oversight committee in November.
“We really do want all of our students to be prepared for this amazing dynamic world that we live in,” said Bruce. “We want them to be successful leaders in a highly diverse and globalized workforce. We want them to be ready to go and hit the pavement running; that requires a lot of academic skill and a lot of social skill.”
The best way to prepare students for college and beyond is by developing strong partnerships between pupils, community members, families and educators to ensure young learners “are living to their full potential as healthy and thriving human beings,” Bruce said.
Restorative practices is a social science that focuses on building, maintaining and restoring positive relationships within a community and can help students and educators develop skills to resolve interpersonal conflict when any wrongdoing occurs.
Types of such practices include restorative justice, which is righting a wrong committed but placing value on the relationships; encouraging the participation of those affected and stakeholders in resolving conflict; giving students problem-solving and self-control skills that they can take into adulthood; and informal restorative practices in which people communicate their feelings using affective statements.
Vice President Dan Jeffries supported the restorative practices but questioned the term, saying that there may be relationships that should not be restored after a wrongdoing.
Bruce replied by stating that the term is “more of a mindset and a shift in how we respond to conflict when we see it” and later admitted that it is less threatening than diversity and inclusion, “which can be charged for some people and make them uncomfortable.
“Over time, over history, these labels that we put on what I would call good teaching — that’s really what it is, or inclusive teaching — have shifted,” Bruce said. “The spirit behind them is everyone should have an opportunity to thrive and everybody should be respected. … Another way that I actually position it is leadership development, which is something most people don’t argue with.
“It means that we really want you to be able to engage in difference and a civil discourse. As a leader, you should be able to have a conversation with your team, or be a member of a team and respect the positions of other people. I think that’s been lost in the fabric of our country in many ways, and so as educators, how do we restore that?”
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette concluded the hourlong educational session stressing the importance of understanding DEI work and that it is a work in progress for everyone involved.
“I think it’s just that we understand that we are going to make mistakes and sometimes the fear keeps you from trying,” said Sinnette. “If we all have that group acceptance that if you’re open and trying and you’re acknowledging a mistake or acknowledging success that it really is about relationships and community and helping people to accept where they are and to commit to growing and going forward. I think that level of understanding and empathy is just so critical.”
DEI proponents contend that the relationships between students, families, educators and administrators thrive in an inclusive environment in which everyone can contribute and address their concerns.
“I think it’s important to create those spaces,” said Bruce, who will host another informative presentation for teachers next month. “We’re not going to get everybody on board, but you’ll get a large number of people saying OK, I understand this is about developing good citizens or leaders or however they choose to frame it in their own mind.”