By Tracy Tomasky
Discussions following the school board’s decision to fill Dr. Pickett’s seat exposed many deep feelings. As I listen, I grow increasingly frustrated that people of color are again repressed from a decision-making position.
Assuming good will, the issues are more deep-seated than what I hear. The trustees who made the decision believe they chose the best candidate. They chose from their perspective, values and experiences. The hidden flaw in all decisions is unconscious bias. We only see what our minds allow us to, unless we choose to uncover our shadows.
The next decision-making piece is the importance of representation. Reflect on these scenarios:
You’re a man, looking at a board of all women. Do you feel your voice will be represented?
You’re a woman, looking at an all-male board. Do you feel your voice will be heard?
You’re white, looking at a board where every member is a POC. Do you feel your voice will be represented?
You’re a POC, looking at an all-white board. Do you feel your voice will be heard?
The last point is choosing the best candidate. As a leadership coach, I encourage clients to consider the best candidate, looking beyond qualifications. What an organization needs when hiring is based on measured results, and accountability to the mission and goals. Start with determining the minimum competency requirements, followed by what characteristics and skills are needed to fulfill the organization’s mission. The most qualified candidate is the one who meets the required qualifications and best matches the characteristics and skills needed to fill those gaps.
Using this lens to fill Dr. Pickett’s seat, what are the board’s gap areas? The final candidates met the qualifications. According to the district, its mission is fulfilled, in part, through a system characterized by a “diverse and inclusive culture.” How can the culture be diverse and inclusive if its board doesn’t represent the students and families? When choosing the most qualified, I believe these well-intentioned trustees missed an opportunity to follow DJUSD’s values and mission.
This only perpetuates a skewed power system. If the board doesn’t diversify, there’s less chance that the administration and staff will. Representation is crucial for young people of color, navigating a world that demonstrates there’s no place for them.
What does leadership do now? It looks in the mirror, admits its blind spots and unconscious bias, and stands up for what’s right.
Tracy Tomasky is a Davis resident and a leader on the Davis Phoenix Coalition and a member of the City’s Social Services Commission.