SCSD Welcomes Our New Diversity, Equity and Belonging Team!

     Published on 1/12/23   Tagged under:    District News   

This January, the Syracuse City School District is pleased to announce the launch of our new Diversity, Equity, and Belonging team.

Led by Director Dr. Reba Hodge, the group will use DEB as a lens through which we see, recognize, and intentionally address systemic inequalities. The ultimate goal is to help reshape the culture of our district through sustained and focused efforts that focus on realizing a vision of a thriving school system.
 
This month, Dr. Hodge will lead a listening tour to speak with school administrators and staff representing all SCSD schools and departments. From there, she will expand her efforts to meet with students and families as well.
 
Stay tuned for more information as this process continues – in the meantime, please see below to learn more about Dr. Hodge and her background; as well as about the DEB initiative in general!
 

What are Diversity, Equity and Belonging?

 
Diversity is defined as the characteristics and experiences that make everyone unique. Diversity is also about the ways we understand, accept and value those differences. Diversity is about the ways in which we leverage and make space for diverse opinions informed by the lived experiences of those around us in efforts positioned to improve our organization. Greater diversity leads to more innovation and willingness to address challenges in thoughtful and nuanced ways.
 
Equity is about creating the conditions and cultivating the environment that leads to fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all of those uniquely different people. It is ultimately about eliminating barriers for our children, families, and staff. Equity is the intentional allocation of resources and opportunities according to need, requiring that discriminatory practices, policies, prejudices, and beliefs be identified and dismantled. Equity is about expanding our system and community’s notion and understanding of who belongs and who schooling is intended to work for. We accomplish this by ensuring opportunity and access for All, specifically those who have been historically marginalized and underserved.
 
Belonging is the missing piece in talks and work that focus on diversity and inclusion. Belonging is personal to each of us. We create the conditions for people to belong through establishing and maintaining trust, demonstrating empathy, accepting, and affirming our different ways of being and through prioritizing connection-connection to each other, to a purpose and feelings of being wanted and affirmed and valued. Belonging is where we want to both land and depart from.

Why is it important?

Verna Myers, activist and VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, has said that “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Later, LaFawn Davis, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Indeed, added, “Belonging is knowing all the songs.”
 
When you feel as though you belong, you learn, teach, lead, and facilitate in very specific ways. There’s a willingness to ask questions and raise issues without fear. You feel safe to be vulnerable with others and be your very authentic self and very best self, allowing you to connect more meaningfully with others. These connections help us think more broadly and more expansively to address issues and impact trajectories.

How is it different from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)?

Diversity, Equity, and Belonging are the terms embedded in the Syracuse City School District mission, vision, and strategic planning priorities and goals. It is important to note that these terms are closely aligned to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work happening across the nation in all areas of our government, businesses, institutes of higher learning, and in school districts across the country.
 
While DEI may be used interchangeably in everyday conversations, we need to explicitly name and provide context as to why BELONGING is different.
 
Diversity = Representation
Inclusion = Actions
Belonging = Feeling

How will it help schools, departments, and families?
 
We must use DEB as a lens in which we see, recognize, and inentionally address systematic inequalities. DEB work is challenging, long-term, ever evolving, and the responsibility of an entire school system and community. We want to reshape the culture of our district through sustained and focused effort that focuses on realizing a vision of a thriving school system.
 
To do so, we must continually learn about how race, racism, and ALL forms of bias and how they shape and continue to influence decision making in every area of schooling. This work is about creating policies and promoting practices that prioritize and ensure healthy learning and continued development of ALL people within our system. We must ALL work together in mutually respectful relationships across differences to create and cultivate the environment where all members of our organization can thrive.

How can I get involved?

If you would like to become involved in the District’s DEB work, you can do so by sending an email to Dr. Reba Hodge, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging, at rhodge@scsd.us.

What does the SCSD believe about diversity, equity, and belonging?

Our DEB work acknowledges differences and catalyzes values, beliefs, and backgrounds as mobilizing tools toward change. DEB prioritizes fair and appropriate access to all types of resources, and creates and sustains positive and affirming teaching, learning, and professional work environments
 
Creating and elevating this position indicates that the Syracuse City School District prioritizes and values equity and belonging and acknowledges how they connect to academic success, positive outcomes, and wellness.

What is our current policy on DEI?

The Syracuse City School District has adopted Board Policy 3430, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In part, the policy highlights the Board beliefs including that all students benefit when schools implement strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and practices. The District has also created the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging position as an indicator of their commitment to this important work.
 
Past work related to tiered support for students and staff members; preventative strategies planning; the Code of Conduct, Character, and Support development and implementation; CRE and Restorative Practices professional development; curriculum audit; the disaggregation of data to analyze subgroups and the ways policies and practices impact them; hiring and retention efforts and practices in our Human Resources Department are just a few of the strategies that have been undertaken by the District.
 
We have done considerable work in this area, but we have so much more to accomplish!
 
 
 Meet Dr. Reba Y. Hodge
 
This is a photo of Reba Hodge, who leads the SCSD Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging.Reba Y. Hodge, Ph.D. is the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging in the Syracuse City School District.
 
Previously, she served as Vice Principal at Van Duyn Elementary School for five years. During her time at Van Duyn, Dr. Hodge led the school’s work in Culturally Responsive Education (CRE). She worked to help cement the school’s identity as one committed to identifying and dismantling policies and practices which perpetuate inequities, along with affirming and valuing all the different ways students, staff and families show up.  Additionally, Dr. Hodge served as the supervisor in charge of Special Education where she demonstrated management and supervisory skills to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion for the benefit of ALL students and staff. She has provided professional development to teachers and leaders across the district. Dr. Hodge is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at conferences and served on several education panels. She is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University in the School of Education, where she works to prepare new educators to be culturally responsive and committed to social justice in their classrooms and schools. There, she leads future teachers to develop culturally responsive practices and ways to elevate equity and belonging in their classrooms and schools.
 
She earned her undergraduate degree from Syracuse University in Inclusive Elementary Education and a Master of Science in Literacy Education, as well as a Master of Science in School Administration from City College in New York City. She served as an elementary classroom teacher for 10 years in the Bronx, NY, prior to returning to Syracuse. Upon her arrival and stay in the Syracuse area, she completed her doctoral degree in Teaching and Curriculum at Syracuse University.
 
Dr. Hodge is a lifelong educator whose passion for children is matched only with her desire to empower and develop teacher leaders committed to advancing equity through sound instructional practice and reflective pedagogy. She has remained a staunch advocate for ALL students, families, and staff. Dr. Hodge continuously demonstrates the ability and agility to establish trust and credibility in an ever changing and complex political landscape. She brings with her a record of proven leadership and the ability to work collaboratively with a wide range on stakeholders.