Nikki Woodson & Shawn Smith: Evolving to meet needs of diverse schools, communities

Keywords Diversity / Opinion / Viewpoint

Our public schools continue to adapt to meet the needs of our evolving school communities. Together in Lawrence Township and Washington Township districts, we serve 28,000 students and 42,000 families.

We are cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility to respond to the diverse needs and interests of the residents who reside in both Lawrence and Washington townships.

This past year challenged our ability to provide quality academic opportunities and options to our students. As a result of the pandemic, we made sweeping changes to how instruction was delivered, services were provided and social support services were received. Despite these changes, our commitment to the academic, social, emotional and extracurricular needs of our students remained unchanged.

As business leaders and major employers in the community, we have an obligation to respond proactively to the challenge of race relations. Our supportive and locally elected school boards charged us to determine how we could address equity and equality not only in the classroom but also in our operation.

In our districts, we were fortunate to receive overwhelming support by voters in our capital referendums, resulting in an approved $661 million for capital projects in our schools. We wanted these funds allocated for new schools, renovated buildings, security enhancements and tangible capital investments to resonate in both our schools and the larger community. Therefore, we developed a supplier diversity program intended to expand business growth and development opportunities for firms owned and operated by women, minorities, veterans and the physically challenged.

First, we relied upon the support of our locally elected school boards to provide guidance on the best path forward. Working with legal counsel and a local firm specializing in supplier diversity support, resolutions were drafted to support the development and implementation of a supplier diversity program. We wanted to ensure that we had the legal underpinnings based upon research and case law to move forward. Once complete, these resolutions were unanimously approved.

Second, we studied the community business climate to determine if there were firms that could assist us in those efforts. We held public-outreach meetings to discuss supplier diversity, enlisting local firms to participate in our projects. To date, 334 firms are registered with our respective school districts and have self-identified that they have the capability to meet our supplier diversity needs.

Third, we are keenly aware that we have the fiscal responsibility to use public tax dollars efficiently and effectively. We encouraged various Indianapolis-based architectural, engineering and construction-management firms to actively seek and recruit diverse suppliers to be part of their teams before submission of competitive proposals for work within our districts.

The results have been positive, yielding outstanding minority business partnerships, quality work and competitive pricing.•


Woodson is superintendent of Washington Township Schools. Smith is superintendent of Lawrence Township Schools.

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