After paying $ 34,000 to equity consultants, NHC school board to reconsider Sophic Solutions contract

A sign reading ‘FIGHT FOR [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] STUDENTS ‘is raised in a crowd of people trying to enter the education board building. (Photo from Port City Daily / Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY – The New Hanover County Board of Education plans to vote later this month on its relationship with the consultancy that has launched a debate on critical race theory in the public school system local.

Sophic Solutions –– a “change management consulting firm” helping the district on its journey to equity, diversity and inclusion –– has billed New Hanover County schools $ 34,400 since it began its partnership almost a year ago. During this period, he organized several focus groups of about an hour and carried out a equity audit, which includes a list of recommendations for the district to follow.

When the district committed to signing its initial contract with the company in February, it agreed to spend at least $ 17,000 until May. A subsequent agreement was signed for a term from July 2021 to June 2022, with the expectation of paying the company a minimum of $ 26,000.

Since each contract was less than $ 300,000, it did not require board approval. However, according to NHCS, there will be a vote on the partnership next month. Few other details were shared.

School board president Stephanie Kraybill declined to comment further on the board’s intention to review the contract.

“Out of respect for my fellow board members, I will decline an interview on this topic until the whole board has a chance to discuss it together,” she wrote in a statement. text.

The school system could terminate the agreement with 20 days’ notice and pay for services rendered until then.

The original contract was rejected by the New Hanover County GOP and parents who believe children learn white privilege and are inherently racist. Ideas are often associated with the term Critical Race Theory, which by definition is a collegial study linking history and systemic racism, but which has rapidly evolving meaning in today’s political climate.

Superintendent Charles Foust testified that college theory is not taught in schools, although the district is widely open about its equity efforts.

“I challenge you to ask yourself: Who am I fighting for?” Is it our children or is it political ideology? Former president Stefanie Adams said at a controversial school board meeting in June, where crowds of people in yellow “Teacher figure.” No color “shirts appeared.” Support you growth students or are you afraid of losing something? “

Over the past few months, the district has accepted invoices for nine equity and inclusion consultations with Sophic Solutions, totaling $ 12,900. He also paid $ 7,500 for a site visit and a half-day student retreat. He compensated the firm $ 8,500 for the fairness check and $ 5,500 for travel expenses.

Managed by partners Stephanie and Rodney Smith, Sophic Solutions is based in Kansas City, Missouri. (Superintendent Charles Foust served public schools in Kansas City, Kansas for almost two years before coming to NHCS.) The company managed the KC Race, Equity and Inclusion Project, a partnership involving the city and the public school system. , and consulted with the County of Platte School District and William Jewell College in Missouri, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield KC and Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

The two agreements with NHCS were made for Sophic Solutions to “support knowledge building and awareness work” through training with stakeholders. Both also refer to a fairness engagement plan and fairness audit, which looked at stakeholder feedback to assess the level of systemic inequity in the system.

Sophic Solutions conducted its audit from March to June and released its findings in August. It incorporated reflections from staff, parents, community members and students from all grade levels.

According to the introduction to the audit report, the district wanted to know whether the training and equity-focused activities – which covered culturally appropriate education, implicit prejudices and racial inequalities – had had an impact over the years. last two years.

Sophic Solutions has credited the NHCS for its work so far, including its prominent display of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging on the district website; its committee established on equity, diversity and inclusion; a staff equity working group; the two years of equity training; and equity-focused book clubs and studies.

“Notably enough, the NHCS has taken an affirmative stance towards advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the district,” according to the audit report.

The audit report also highlighted how the NHCS could expand its efforts. Specifically, he pointed to an over-representation of white students in the district’s gifted education program, Lyceum Academy, and suggested that the under-representation of students of color is likely the result of underlying hidden biases.

Also during the focus groups, the need for a “more inclusive curriculum” was repeatedly raised, according to the audit report.

One participant was quoted: “We still teach pilgrims and Indians at school, not all teachers participate, but it is still the norm. We should do better in 2021.

Another person suggested that the program revolves around the white experience.

To address the gaps identified, Sophic Solutions urged the district to “expand the images, biographies, accomplishments and stories students are exposed to in the program to show the breadth and depth of historically marginalized communities” and to revisit course materials to ensure progressive social paradigms are promoted.

Based on guidance from Sophic Solutions, the district also created an Inclusion Officer and appointed Dr LaChawn Smith, who previously served as Deputy Superintendent.

Other suggestions included developing partnerships with HBCUs or ending “traditional” events such as Colonial Day. To make up for the lack of educators of color, Sophic Solutions recommended that NHCS consider a policy that a certain percentage of applicants from marginalized groups must apply before a position can be filled.

The school board meets on Tuesday January 18 from 5 p.m.

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