Administration takes steps towards ‘diverse community’

Henry Vogel

The administration has changed the teacher hiring and promotion process, created a Diversity Task Force and increased the school’s financial aid budget to follow through with its goal of creating a more “diverse and inclusive community,” better reflecting the opening phrase of the mission statement adopted in 2014.

“There are things that the school is actually doing that people are unaware of, and there are challenges and problems that I think we need to acknowledge as well and not leave people with the impression that we’re unaware of concerns that are out there,” President Rick Commons said.

The Diversity Task Force’s mission is to research the best practices at other independent schools in the nation, a job that entails visits to schools in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and New York.

The group also submits reports and recommendations to the school’s Senior Administration and Planning Committee Board.

Commons appointed upper school dean Chris Jones, middle school psychologist Susan Ko and director of financial aid Melanie León to run the group.

“It’s not just about diversity,” Jones said. “I think building up a critical mass of diverse students and faculty is obviously something we need to do, but even more than that it’s the idea of inclusion. Culturally people can be coming from a lot of different backgrounds. So how do you make sure the community responds and makes everyone feel as comfortable as possible? We’ve spent a lot of time seeing how peer institutions address it all.”

In addition to the task force, faculty members have attended conferences about diversification since the mission statement was rewritten.

Four faculty members attended the Campbell Hall Inclusion Institute in June, 14 went to the People of Color Conference in December and more faculty members will go to the Pollyanna Conference at Dalton School in March.

Students have also attended conferences on diversity. Six went to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in December, 20 attended the Empowerment and Engagement Coalition Conference for African American Boys in November, and 20 went to the Empowerment and Engagement Coalition Conference for African American Girls in April.

Additionally, the school has hosted its own events on diversity.

Faculty and staff attended four meetings for the Brown Bag Sessions titled “The ‘How’ of Diversity and Inclusion: What does the application look like?” The school also hosted the annual event Student Voices in January 2015. In March, the Parent Association will sponsor a panel titled “Diversity Matters.”

“There is such interest from students and faculty so it was nice to see that the administration was willing to put money behind those efforts,” Jones said.

The school raised its financial aid budget in order to increase the number of students receiving financial aid from the current 17 percent to 21 percent by 2020.

To diversify the hiring procedure, administrators attended the Carney Sandoe Diversity Fair and the New England Minority Network (NEMNET) Diversity Fair. It also began working with the NEMNET to start a Los Angeles-based diversity fair and to develop an exclusive relationship with them so that they will provide Harvard-Westlake with potential candidates for positions, Commons said in an e-mail.

“We’re not perfect by any stretch, but I definitely can see that in the last couple years we’ve been making some positive strides for sure,” Jones said. “If nothing else, just to have that part of our ideal stated so prevalently and early in the mission statement is significant. When you put it out there front and center, it holds you accountable.”