Since 2017, Walla Walla School District has focused on nurturing a culture of belonging through our “We All Belong Here” efforts. Values and beliefs identified in the visual that adorns classrooms, hallways and offices across our campuses, have supported our collective progress towards promoting and ensuring an inclusive, welcoming, safe and engaging environment for all students and faculty. It has provided us both an organizational exemplar to strive for, while also serving as a support structure to turn to when difficulty strikes our campus community.
Progress made under our belonging efforts have helped promote access and inclusion for our students with special needs, increased the racial, ethnic and economic diversity within clubs, programs and courses, and helped close the graduation gap between student groups. Additionally, as a result of this work, annual survey feedback from students, parents and staff point to campus environments that are more welcoming, accessible and supportive for students and stakeholders. While improvement remains to fully realize the values within the symbolic signage, great progress has been made across our campuses.
During the most recent legislative session, the Washington Legislature passed SB 5044. This bill requires that all Washington State school district employees and their school boards participate in one day of professional development training every other year beginning next fall. The training, as spelled out in the bill, must address "cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion." While there is no mention of topics such as "critical race theory," there remains a lot of misunderstanding and speculation around this new mandate as districts wrestle with implementation, albeit with limited guidance and support.
In response to this legislation, and in alignment with our district’s ongoing commitment towards our “We All Belong Here” efforts, Walla Walla Public Schools intends to frame our required professional development around our already-established core beliefs outlined in our belonging-centered campaign. Focusing our efforts around our ongoing work will serve to continue promoting what we have collectively embraced and widely supported for the past 5 years. WWPS recognizes that our differences help drive our greatness, and will continue our efforts promoting our diverse campus and classroom environments that are tolerant, respectful, and inclusive for all.
Dr. Wade Smith