June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

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Andy Dey departure raises new questions about 4J equity plan

8 min read
On Nov. 15, 2023, Dr. Andy Dey said 4J would dedicate a person to a districtwide DEI plan, which would be delivered by the end of the school year. In February, he acknowledged that no one has been assigned to the work, and no progress has been made.

4J started the school year by eliminating its equity department. The district apologized and promised in November to deliver a new equity plan by the end of the school year. But after admitting in February that no one is assigned to the work, the district’s decision March 6 to seek a new superintendent raises new questions. The first questions were raised Oct. 18:

Sabrina Gordon (Eugene Education Association), Oct. 18, 2023: I am Sabrina Gordon, president of Eugene Education Association, and I’m joined tonight by EEA Vice President Imelda Cortez. We are here tonight to speak about 4J’s decision to dissolve the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

In the words of John Lewis: When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something. Dissolving this department directly impacts our BIPOC and historically underserved students, staff and community.

[00:01:04] Indigo Amarys (CALC, Oct. 18, 2023): My name is Indigo Amarys. I work at Community Alliance of Lane County doing educational equity work, and I went through 4J (South Eugene High School Class of 2018). A big part of my job is connecting with parents, students, and staff around what they are seeing in our schools, which is what brings me here tonight.

[00:01:19] I’m concerned about the dissolution of the Equity Department… There are community members, parents, students, and staff who feel uncertainty and discomfort around these restructured choices. There are many more who are unaware of this happening at all.

[00:01:31] John Q: An apology Nov. 1 from Superintendent Andy Dey.

[00:01:34] Andy Dey (4J superintendent, Nov. 1, 2023): After hearing those comments, it became clear to me that the changes we made left some to question, if not fear, we were possibly turning our back on the equity work that needs to be done in all aspects of this district.

[00:01:46] For that I offer a sincere and unconditional apology.

[00:01:50] Most importantly, I want to state that I hear you when you say those changes need to be revisited. I hear you when you state that the district’s commitment to equity should not be muted in any way. And I hear you when you say you feel those changes resulted in a less than full-throated commitment to equity in our district.

[00:02:07] John Q: On Nov. 15, the district offered a schedule for delivering an equity plan by the end of the year.

[00:02:16] Superintendent Andy Dey (Nov. 15, 2023): From November to January 2024, we’ll do community outreach with the idea that by February 2024, we would be able to utilize the information that we receive from all of our stakeholders, so that we can have a person dedicated to ensuring that, number one, we develop a diversity equity and inclusion districtwide plan that touches on all aspects of the organization and that person would be required to oversee and shepherd that plan through, working with colleagues in the district areas, departments, schools, what have you.

[00:02:49] By the end of the year, have a full districtwide DEI plan, share that with the board, share that with the community, and update regularly on progress.

[00:02:57] John Q: But at a status meeting on Feb. 22, Dr. Dey said no progress had been made, and no person was dedicated to the equity plan. One of the participants in that meeting:

[00:03:09] Indigo Amarys (CALC, March 8, 2024): Basically what we heard is that that timeline is no longer accurate. Things weren’t done for a number of reasons—ice storm. And I printed off copies of the presentation as it was presented at the Nov. 15 meeting because I intended it to be like a little bit of a check-in and hear, like, where we’re at, like, ‘How’s it going? Do you have candidates for the position? Have you gotten feedback from families and students?’

[00:03:37] And the answer was basically ‘No,’ and a huge part of why that answer was a ‘No’ was because there’s no one in a position where this is really top of their mind, really their position to really be invested in this equity work.

[00:03:51] And so that’s what we’re seeing across the board. There’s no time, there’s no investment, and the people who are invested are expected to do it without pay and without actual power and autonomy to actualize the things that they care about.

[00:04:05] And folks in that meeting, I think, were very generous about understanding that timelines are not always helpful. And really, what we want to see is like an ongoing continuum of work. And hard deadlines maybe aren’t the way that we will achieve things. But I was pretty disappointed to hear about basically no progress since that presentation.

[00:04:32] There’s things that are out of our control, right? Like the ice storm and folks being in need for the weeks after that. But there were months before the ice storm in which things could have been done and they weren’t.

[00:04:47] And of course, no communication about the fact that none of the objectives on that list had been met, and still hasn’t been talked about publicly that basically, we’re reorienting and trying to figure this out again.

[00:05:01] John Q: And then, on March 6, the school district and Superintendent Dey decided to part ways.

[00:05:07] Maya Rabasa (4J School Board chair, March 6, 2024): The district and the superintendent have discussed an agreement for a mutual separation of the superintendent from his position with the district effective June 30, 2024…

[00:05:19] I have a statement that’s been approved by the superintendent and the board to share with you so that I can read that into the records: Superintendent Dey and the members of this board have carefully considered present circumstances and it is our mutual and considered decision to separate at this time.

[00:05:38] As the superintendent and locally-elected school board members, all of our number one priority is safeguarding the interests of our more than 16,000 students. Our students and their families get up every weekday morning for school, and they have placed their trust in us to provide the very best educational experience we can.

[00:05:57] In navigating the complexities of this transition, we acknowledge the constraints imposed by personnel and legal matters. We appreciate the community’s understanding and patience as we adhere to these necessary protocols, always striving for fairness and transparency. Meeting that responsibility often requires difficult and thoughtful decisions.

[00:06:17] We have many responsibilities as an administration and a board, including ensuring our leadership and staff can work together to better our students’ futures.

[00:06:27] We know that Eugene 4J is a large and very complex district that requires deep experience and proven skills as an executive and we appreciate the thought both the superintendent and the board members have put into this difficult decision.

[00:06:41] As district leaders, we will continue to work towards accountability, effective leadership, and community engagement to live up to the expectations of our students, staff, and community. The board and staff will continue to work on next steps in the coming days and weeks.

[00:06:56] We would like to thank Dr. Dey for his long service here in Eugene as a teacher and administrator. He has had a positive impact on many young lives and we wish him well.

[00:07:05] John Q: With the superintendent leaving, who will serve as the district’s contact for equity work?

[00:07:12] Indigo Amarys (CALC, March 8, 2024): Who is the person in the district that we should be talking to? I mean, these are questions I’ve been asking since before November, before I knew that the Equity Department had been dissolved.

[00:07:23] I think the existence of an Equity Department was a symbolic show of investment by the district of 4J into diversity, equity, and inclusion work. The existence of it was meaningful to students and to families. It felt like that was a place where they could go that existed for them.

[00:07:44] The structural power of having a Diversity and Equity Department and having directors of that department—when that no longer exists, there’s a lot of agency and autonomy and power lost for the folks who are doing that work, because now they’re in essentially less powerful positions, not to mention they’re dispersed across different departments.

[00:08:08] And one of the things for me when I am doing work like this is considering: What does success look like out of what we’re doing? Is a DEI plan for the next five years something that will serve our district well and our community?

[00:08:24] A big part of, I think, what we want to do is community education, because there’s folks in our community who also don’t understand equity and what it means and why they should care about it and how it impacts them. So that feels like a big first step.

[00:08:39] Also, telling folks what’s going on, like: What is the state of equity in 4J? Because for a lot of people, if you’re only paying attention to the board meetings, last you heard there was a plan, and it looked great.

[00:08:54] So those are all things that we can do without support or communication with a superintendent. In a superintendentless district, we can still work with our community to educate and organize and mobilize people.

[00:09:07] It’s really in an uncertain place right now. And I think one thing that folks really tried to convey in that meeting, and I think we’re going to continue to try and convey, is that we really are looking for buy-in from the district, from admin, from the board, from anyone in a position, that this work is their work.

[00:09:30] It feels like too often we ask for a meeting and we get asked, ‘What do you think we should do? Tell us your struggles and how we could respond to them.’ And folks really emphasized at this meeting that, ‘This is your work. We’re not here to do it for you. We’re doing this for our community, and you should be invested in doing this for your community.’

[00:09:51] It speaks to retention. They talk about how real progress is made when really invested folks came and worked for the district, and then how that stops when they leave. And to me, you know, my response is, ‘Well, what did you do to try to retain those people?’ You know? And the answer is, ‘Nothing.’ And: ‘What about exit interviews with those people to understand why they left, so that you could prevent it in the future?’

[00:10:18] Those are things that feel like low-hanging fruit to me, but we’re not even there yet.

[00:10:23] John Q: 4J decides to seek a new superintendent, and the community wonders:  What next? for a districtwide equity plan, due at the end of the school year.

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