Building Strength with Diversity

None of us are surprised when we hear that Frisco continues to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. People from all over the country, and sometimes the world, learn about Frisco and decide to make it their home. Our once small town has become a diverse city, full of different cultures and backgrounds, and this diversity is one of the things that makes Frisco so outstanding. Every citizen can learn from the lifestyles and cultures of others to gain a broader view of the world, without ever leaving their own neighborhood.

Being culturally-diverse, however, can present unique challenges in a school environment, and the FISD continues to be proactive in meeting the needs of its students and families. Charis Hunt, the current facilitator of the Diversity Task Force and part of the Human Resources department of the FISD, says she can trace the task force’s roots back at least 12 years. “It started during a time when the district was still very small, but was anticipating tremendous growth,” she says.

The goals of the task force include promoting equity, embracing diversity and differences and encouraging active participation on the part of families and the community. When students and members within the broader school community better understand different cultures, there are more cross-cultural friendships. There is often less anxiety about cultures different from their own and there is a more positive attitude where students live and work in general. Ms. Hunt emphasizes that while cultural diversity plays a major role, “the task force focuses on diversity in all its forms,” cultural, academic, athletic and so much more.

The committee meets four times a year and has subcommittees that meet more frequently. These include Cultural Awareness, Training (which has been separated into its own subcommittee this school year, to better focus the task force’s efforts), Recruiting and Retention and Equity and Excellence. The group is made up of staff at different schools, district staff, parents and students.

Ms. Hunt says the task force is responsible for “being the ones who ask questions. We may not have all the answers. Sometimes, we will develop initiatives and it becomes another department’s responsibility.” For example, one recommendation the task force made last year that was implemented was to include cultural training as a portion of the compliance training all staff are required to take.

The district also feels it is important to make every effort to recruit and retain staff members who reflect the student population. “When you think about our ever-changing and growing district, it is important to value all backgrounds,” Ms. Hunt says.

To understand what that means, it is important to understand what the student population looked like 20 years ago compared to today. Per the Diversity Task Force’s October 2016 report, in 1996, Frisco’s student population was 74.1 percent white, 21.9 percent Hispanic and 2.7 percent African American. Today, we are much more diverse with a student population made up of 50.8 percent white, 13.9 percent Hispanic, 10.5 percent African American, 20.9 percent Asian, 3.4 percent that includes two or more races and less than 1 percent Native American, Alaskan, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Also, for 4.9 percent of the student population, English is a second language. As of the 2014-2015 school year, the district served 67 languages in total, ranging from Spanish, to Portuguese, to Farsi, to Hindi and more.

Diversity has many dimensions — some within each person’s control and many that are merely a factor of where a person was born and into which family. We all grow up with a certain set of beliefs that are influenced by these factors. Those assumptions will drive our behaviors and often affect others, both positively and negatively.

Our personalities consist of our likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. These influence the other three layers of diversity. The next level consists of our internal dimensions — things like our age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and physical ability. External dimensions, such as geographic location, religion, marital status, parental status, personal habits and educational background can change over time because we have some control over them. The outer-most layer includes organizational dimensions. Things like seniority, management status, work field, union affiliation, departments and work location are aspects found in a work setting and some aspects are also found in our school settings.

There are also several stages of sensitivity to difference. Denial is the belief that one’s culture is the only “real” culture. Defense is the belief that one’s own culture is the most “evolved.” Minimization is the recognition of superficial cultural differences. Acceptance is recognizing that culture affects a wide range of human experience. Adaptation involves expanding one’s own worldviews to accurately understand other cultures. And, finally, integration sees the definition of oneself as not central to the bigger picture. Along this continuum, people tend to either see their own culture as central to reality in varying degrees or they see their own culture in the context of other cultures, again in varying degrees. The FISD hopes to move its operations and beliefs to where faculty, staff, parents and students can see their own cultures as part of a bigger picture; one where differences are embraced and celebrated.

The Diversity Task Force serves as a resource for the FISD’s strategic planning efforts and the district’s action plan, as well as each individual campus’s action plans. The group has several short and long-term goals. They hope to offer professional learning for staff, to celebrate and showcase Frisco’s diversity, to raise awareness and to recruit to match the FISD’s employees to the overall makeup of the city at large. They hope to share ideas and perspectives with not only staff and faculty, but with parents, students and the community. They hope that this kind of open dialog will create a collaborative environment that brings out the best ideas and improves programs across the board for everyone involved.

The subcommittees mentioned earlier cover extensive and various topics. Ms. Hunt says, “Subcommittees are now meeting to report back the short and long-term goals.” The Cultural Awareness and Training groups oversee professional learning for staff, training videos, multicultural celebrations and expos, the multicultural events calendar, parent outreach, religious and cultural observances, multicultural night ideas, the diversity webpage and campus support for new parents. The Recruiting and Retention group works on educator profiles, hiring and retention of male elementary teachers, products for promoting diversity for teacher fairs and promoting teaching as a career with Frisco high school students. The Equity and Excellence group responsibilities include identifying and highlighting home countries of the student body, creating videos and documents explaining various programs, implementing capstone seminars and researching AP classes, reaching underserved populations for pre-AP and AP participation, identifying underperforming students and providing study skills courses and the promotion of career and technical education courses.

“When people move to Frisco, they can feel confident that we continuously evaluate our programs and practices. We do not wait until we are behind to catch up,” says Ms. Hunt. “Families and businesses need to know we value what they bring. It is a part of every person in every way and people are not just numbers,” she says.

Whether you have children in Frisco schools or not, this level of awareness and effort goes a long way to demonstrate how growing schools go beyond the bare minimum. We can all feel better about Frisco students who go out into the world. They will represent Frisco well, with understanding and appreciation for the unique perspective everyone brings to the table.