By Alan Madlane
Heather Dorogi is the Hamtramck School District’s brand-new student coordinator in a unique program, and by brand-new, we mean that this position is also a new one for the district.
Dorogi is part of the district’s DEIJ program, which stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice, and is all about making students feel heard, accepted and supported to be best able to succeed.
We asked Dorogi to explain the program and her role.
The Review: First, let’s get a little background about you, if we could. Where were you working before taking this position? How did you hear about this position?
Heather Dorogi: I have been in education for almost 20 years, serving students and their families in places like Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Southfield. I spent 15 years of that time at Royal Oak Schools as a classroom teacher, where I was allowed multiple opportunities for leadership and development.
I have been part of cohorts, all across Oakland County, that provided a lens on not just what my district was doing or was struggling with, but the lens of other districts as well.
When a grassroots movement at Royal Oak Schools started, with a few teachers coming together to form a social justice committee, I knew I had found a team as passionate about DEIJ as I was. That committee brought Professional Development to teachers, grants for multicultural books for every classroom, and grew into a K-12 district committee that now has their own DEIJ District Coordinator.
I have been part of the work to ensure that all students, regardless of the district I am working in, feel visible, voiced, and valued.
The Review: What made you want to apply for this position? Do you know how many others you were up against for it?
Dorogi: I am not privy to how many other persons applied for this position. I applied because I believe that this work is important in order to really meet the needs of ALL students. We have achievement gaps, but more importantly, we have opportunity gaps that have to be addressed in educating our students.
These gaps can only be addressed when we allow students’ authentic selves to show up in classrooms. What research, and best practices, tell us is that, when students feel safe and valued, they are able to really focus on the academic growth that is expected of them.
When they do not feel safe and valued, it can manifest in their academics and behaviors. I spent years in a classroom, trying to ensure that I created this space for each student. Now, this position allows capacity to this message.
The Review: The position of DEIJ Coordinator is a brand-new one for the Hamtramck district. What will be your main duties, as you understand them? Are you already at work for the 2022-23 school year?
Dorogi: Yes, in fact the work and planning for the 2022-2023 school year started the moment the 2021-2022 school year ended.
In order to be in compliance with the state in several regards, we had deadlines of June 30th for our 2022-2023 school year. This planning included work by the Curriculum Dept., led by Widad Luqman, fortifying systems in place around curriculum and instruction, finding and providing sustainable professional development to our staff, finding equitable curriculum and assessments that help us better understand the needs of our students for our MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) process, and beginning the 2022-2023 school year ready with excitement around all that our students and their families will achieve this year.
For clarification, I am not ONLY the DEIJ District Coordinator, I also coordinate the MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) process at HPS. The two are completely intertwined, because we have to bring an equitable lens if we are really trying to support the whole child through this process.
Students, and people, are more than academics and behaviors. We have to come ready to remember they have multiple identities, as we all do, that are deciding factors in how they show up each and every day.
Factors like their socio-emotional needs, socio-economic needs, and ways that they may be experiencing marginalization are all important to our lens and discussions as we meet to discover how our students’ needs are best met.
The meetings, systems, professional development, curriculum, assessment, and instruction in our district all need to be filtered through this lens. As with any position, there is a person who is responsible for gathering and collaborating with a team of people, to try to ensure this goal is achieved. I have been asserted with leading the formation of this DEIJ team.
One person cannot bring every lens to the table, so to speak. This requires a team where the voices that represent our students, their families, and the community are heard. The long-term goal is to create a sustained K-12 DEIJ district committee that will evolve and grow with the district.
This COMMITTEE will be the driving force in continued DEIJ work and goals. My role is not to be “the person” for DEIJ. My role is to facilitate that development of this committee, and support its work, so that HPS students and families feel safe in our schools and hence, successful, at them.
The Review: Was this position modeled on that of other school districts around the state or country? How much input do you anticipate having in shaping what the role may become?
Dorogi: MTSS District Coordinator positions are not new in Michigan, or around the country.
The DEIJ aspect is “new,” however the district I was hired from had this position previously. Farmington Hills and other districts are now looking to hire for this position as well. We have an amazing Curriculum Team Dept. and Interim Superintendent that all collaborate together to support shaping what this role will look like in Hamtramck.
Networking opportunities throughout Wayne County and Oakland County also help shape and guide what this position entails. The ISDs have had DEI leadership and work for years, leading up to this being a district position.
The Review: Were you given any support staff working underneath your position to help you? If so, were you allowed to hire them, or did HR?
Dorogi: I am happily part of the Curriculum Team at HPS, led by Widad Luqman. My position is part of the team that helps drive curriculum development and implementation, data and assessment, and academic strategy and innovative design.
We collaborate constantly to ensure that we are student-centered, data-informed, and future-focused.
The Review: What is the multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), and how will it be applied in the Hamtramck School District? Does this address bullying, for example, or the seemingly constant tensions between racial or other groups that we sometimes see spilling over on students’ walks home from school, or on weekends even?
Dorogi: I hit on some of this in my answers above. MTSS is this:
It is the system where we address the WHOLE child. Behavior is addressed through the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) system, and through our social-emotional components like Positive Action.
This is how we support anti-bullying education, by building empathy and acceptance, character traits that live outside of our classrooms and into student lives, and are vehicles for our continued DEIJ work. The goal is that, when students feel safe and accepted at school, this will spill out into their lives outside of school.
Learning that you have more in common than not with your peers is a powerful way to help address these tensions.
The Review: What’s your response to those who are critical of diversity programs as part of a student’s curriculum?
Dorogi: This is not a “diversity program.” This position ensures that ALL students have a voice and are seen in our district. We must provide our students with opportunities for mirrors and windows to the diversity around them.
Mirrors are when students see themselves in their surroundings and in classrooms. For many, they need to see more mirrors in the texts and literature that they are exposed to, to the posters and illustrations they see, and to a community of learning that ensures that everyone feels accepted and safe, regardless of any of their identities.
Students also need opportunities for windows into other identities that might represent their peers and their community members.
Again, students learn best when they feel safe and accepted and when there isn’t any part of them they feel they have to “check at the door” when they walk into classrooms at HPS.
This is not a diversity program — diversity exists — this is about including everyone’s voice so that we can be equitable in meeting each student’s needs and then providing actionable steps to achieving this.
The Review: Are there certain textbooks or lesson plans that are involved with this DEIJ effort?
Are there learning materials that are considered the “paragon” or “essence” of teaching this material? Does it include history books that try to see the formation of world culture from all sides, for example?
Dorogi: There are many resources that support this work, as the work itself has been around for a long time.
DEI resources are research-based, and there is a plethora for our DEIJ team to eventually vet, and then decide which will work best, for our district. Collaboration with Wayne RESA, and other districts throughout the country, around this work also provides guidance for what resources really meet the needs of students.
Podcasts like Leading Equity are prevalent for research-based opportunities to collaborate with the people and districts leading the way in this work. Once we have established our DEIJ team this year, the team will dive into resources that we want to take district-wide.
I am but one voice. I need a team to lead this work.
The Review: What kind of feedback have you been getting from parents, the media, the government, or anyone else? Are you getting a lot of pushback, and if so, is any of it coming from outside the district? And if it is, what (if anything) needs to be done about that?
Dorogi: I have not received any negative feedback so far! There is a curiosity, and many are “waiting” to see what this will look like.
I firmly believe that, when we utilize the lens that the goal of this position is to allow ALL students to feel visible, voiced, and valued, it is hard to make an argument against meeting these needs.
The Review: Feel free to add anything else that you would like to here, at this point.
Dorogi: I apologize for this taking so long. These were questions that required some lengthy responses, and with the school year just kicking off, things have been a little hectic.
Our Curriculum Team is working hard to support all staff, all students, and all families, and sometimes this takes more time than there is in a day! Thank you for being patient with me! I wanted to ensure efficacy in the answers your questions required.
Posted Sept. 30, 2022