Guest Blog: The Beginning of the End

Cassandra Taylor, Duke School parent, guest blogs about her family's experience and diversity journey after 11 years at Duke School.  
When our family decided to join Duke School in 2005, it was a really tough decision for us. The major questions for us were would our daughter thrive as a student, and would we be comfortable here as a diverse family? Most of you probably didn’t consider these same questions.      
 
As we reflect back to the beginning, during our second year at Duke School, I think about the day my daughter noticed, as a four-year-old, and announced to me one afternoon that she was “the only one with brown skin in my whole school.” For a preschooler, the school universe is within the preschool building, which was on Hull Avenue at that time. As heartbreaking as her revelation was, and as I continued to question our decision to join, I was able to muster my response…”That makes you REALLY special.”
 
My mind immediately started churning with all sorts of ideas because I knew there would have to be changes if we would remain at Duke School, where we prayed she would thrive and we would be comfortable, as a family. And, as parents of an only child, I knew we had a single opportunity to make changes for her, and there was no time to waste. I began by joining the community Diversity Committee and quickly coordinated an evening diversity discussion for the school, facilitated by Angela Bryant of VISIONS, Inc. There were small group discussions led by the Diversity Committee, which included parents, faculty and administrators. Those discussions significantly influenced the themes and initiatives for improving diversity as we moved forward. In short, they were:

    1) Recruit, retain, and embrace faculty, staff, students, families, and board members of color
    2) Recognize, embrace, and celebrate the diversity and multiculturalism within our community
    3) Ensure the curriculum and messages communicate clearly to our children about diversity
 
Next, I joined the Board of Trustees in 2007, which was comprised of mostly white men. I served two successive terms, took one year off and began a third three-year term in 2014. I believe my board tenure is historical, and the transformation of the Board’s demographics has been amazing. During this journey, we established the first ever Board Diversity Committee to develop and guide strategic initiatives for the school.  And, the community Diversity Committee continued to plan and orchestrate community events. The work of both committees shines through these accomplishments, just to name a few:

  • In the last six years, student racial and ethnic diversity has increased from 24% to 29% while employee diversity has increased from 8% to 13%.
  • We have featured a number of guest speakers who have engaged parents and employees about various diversity and cultural competency topics.
  • Diversity has become one of the annual goals established by all employees, the Leadership Team and the Board.
  • Duke School has partnered with Tiffany Taylor Smith, of TR Taylor Consulting to work with employees and the Board on cultural competency.
  • In late 2015, as a community, we took the Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM) survey, sponsored by National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) which provided valuable feedback from parents, faculty, older students and alumni. This feedback will help guide the next steps. 
  • The International potluck dinner has attracted more and more attendees each year since its inception three years ago. This year, an added feature was a parent discussion about cultural competency, led by Tiffany Taylor Smith.
  • Several faculty have attended the People of Color Conference (POCC); expanding opportunities for sharing and learning.
  • The Board level Diversity Committee and the Leadership Team established goals, initiatives and strategies to increase cultural competency, act as diversity ambassadors, and ensure Duke School’s commitment to improving diversity.
I’m excited to share this list of examples that highlights so many changes that have occurred over the past 11 years that I’m very proud to say were a result of my initial and ongoing efforts, and so many of yours. In 2015, I (along with Elise Dunzo) was nominated by Duke School as a Leader in Diversity and we were both recognized as winners by the Triangle Business Journal! But, we cannot rest on our laurels since diversity work is never ending, and there’s always a new beginning.        
 
Getting to this point was not easy, or fast, and over the years there have been some really hard discussions and tough situations surrounding diversity, or the lack thereof, at Duke School. But, because of so many who recognized the importance of diversity, and believed in its strength, our beginning has ended. Recently, I entered the campus while the kindergartners and first graders were at recess and I was extremely proud to see so many colorful children playing together, and there was not an “only one with brown skin." As another confirmation, when we attended our LAST End of Year Party, I met several NEW diverse families who will join Duke School in the fall! I told them I’m happier for them than they are for themselves, because I know what they’re getting -the best preschool through eighth grade education ever, in a wonderful community!
 
Now, almost 11 years later, the answers to our initial questions are clear for us. We have made many lasting friendships, enjoyed some wonderful times together, made impactful statements, and above all, our daughter has definitely thrived at Duke School. She is an excellent and talented student and a thoughtful and kind person. Duke School has prepared her very well to enter high school at Durham School of the Arts, as she continues to amaze us as a problem solver in our complex and diverse world. We will miss so much about Duke School.

*Cassandra and Wayne Taylor's daughter, Lauren, entered Duke School as a three-year-old, and will be a Duke School alumna, Class of 2016. 
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  • David OConnell
    Cassandra, Very nice piece- a testament to the type of hard work that is need to get there. While you and I worked together in a limited way, you definitely impacted how I think about diversity. Thank you. David
  • Cathy Bryson
    As a brand new, diverse family who will be joining the Duke School in the 2016-2017 school year, I am heartened to learn of all the work that has been done and is continuing. Thank you for your commitment!
  • Melanie Trost
    Thank you for sharing your time and talents and your lovely daughter with the DukeSchool Cassandra!
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