In PADC talk, PUSD’s new DEI director outlines priorities

Clockwise from top left: Ellen Lee from PADC, PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker, Assistant superintendent Cheryl Wozniak, and DEI Director Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard

The Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC) held a fireside chat over Zoom on March 8 to discuss DEI initiatives with three school district leaders: Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, and Superintendent Randy Booker. The event was facilitated by Ellen Lee, Head of the PADC Schools Committee.

The purpose of the fireside chat was for community members to hear about DEI initiatives in Piedmont schools. Attendees got the chance to hear from the newly appointed Dr. Vanden Wyngaard about why this work is important and have questions answered about these initiatives.

Some of the DEI initiatives in Piedmont include the Black Student Union, the Affinity Mentorship Program, the BIPOC Staff Network, and the DEI Council that will provide support and feedback to Dr. Vanden Wyngaard. These initiatives function under Piedmont’s larger Racial Equity Policy and Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which commit to fighting racism and creating equitable education outcomes.

Dr. Wozniak said that this iteration of DEI work began five years ago as a result of antisemitic incidents at Piedmont High School. Following those incidents, school leadership organized listening sessions and professional development centered around DEI. This paved the way for more comprehensive initiatives like the Racial Equity Board Policy 0415.1, adopted in September 2020.

“After five years, it’s beginning to feel like DEIB [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging] work is really integrated into the very fabric of the work we do,” said Wozniak.

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard then discussed her approach as the incoming Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, where she will focus principally on systems and access.

“What are the systems in place to ensure that we can create an equitable learning organization? Those are the kinds of things that I think about,” said Dr. Vanden Wyngaard.

When asked about her goals, Dr. Vanden Wyngaard highlighted belonging, access, and difficult conversations around race within the community and beyond.

“I want to hear that Piedmont is the school district where people do have a sense of belonging, that they can thrive. I want to hear language change around race and no one fearing it in Piedmont,” said Dr. Vanden Wyngaard. “To me, when the language changes, when the comfort level becomes stronger, and when fear begins to dissipate, I know we’ve been successful.”

Lee prompted Dr. Vanden Wyngaard to also discuss what DEI isn’t, given the national debates around Critical Race Theory and book banning.

“Critical Race Theory is housed in law, talking about the relationship between systemic racism and the judicial system,” said Vanden Wyngaard. “That stretch is not anything that we get to do. I’m in education. My job is to make sure we serve all of our students to make sure they can do their best.”

Lee asked Dr. Vanden Wyngaard to discuss whether PUSD’s increased focus on DEI work will negatively impact the academic program in any way. According to Dr. V, as she is informally known, the answer is a resounding “no.”

“It can only get better. We’re not talking about releasing excellence. Equity is excellence. DEI work is excellence,” said Vanden Wyngaard. “All we can do is become a stronger district in order to serve our children so they become the global leaders that we expect them to be.”

Following Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, Mr. Booker spoke about Piedmont’s Racial Equity Board Policy and strategic goals.

Booker said that the Piedmont schools have developed numerous equity initiatives over the years, but that these were interrupted due to a lack of substantial and ongoing resources. What has changed now is that the DEI initiatives are more substantially resourced through the budget, strategic plan, and personnel.

“Your budget is a reflection of your priorities,” said Booker. “I think with those three things in place — budget, strategic plan, and personnel — it’s communicating to our students, families, and community that this work is not only important, but it’s here to stay for a very long time.”

These DEI initiatives are now funded by the General Fund, grants from the state, and donations from the Piedmont Education Foundation and organizations like PADC.

Booker then discussed the advancement from Board Policy 0415, focused broadly on educational equity, to Board Policy 0415.1. Booker said that Piedmont school leaders agreed that our community must take the policy further to focus specifically on racial equity.

Reading from Board Policy 0415.1, Booker said, “This Board Policy is focused solely on racial equity by design… A school district with a strong commitment to anti-racist values requires an additional set of considerations to our nation’s continuing history of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, white privilege, and oppression based on race.”

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard ended the meeting by sharing her hope for the coming year: “My hope is to hear from our students that things are moving. I want to hear from them that something is changing. If I can help them do that, then I know my work is good.”

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard was appointed as the new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in December 2021. She currently lives in Albany, New York, and has visited Piedmont twice to meet with Board members, students, teachers, and staff. She will be starting her work remotely and moving to the Bay Area in the coming months to begin her work in-person.

A recording of the fireside chat, as well as information about upcoming events, will be available on the PADC website at in the coming days.

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