Grand River Solutions Issues Final DEI Report

Grand Rivers Solutions, a consulting agency, released its final report on climate, hiring, and retention in Verona Schools in December. 

The report includes information about the current state of the district’s culture and hiring process as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and suggestions to improve it. 

Jody Shipper, the managing director of Grand Rivers Solutions, worked directly with the district to compile this report. Ms. Shipper has worked with K-12 districts, athletics teams, and higher education institutes, including the entire University of California system. 

To create the report, Ms. Shipper used data provided by the district, including the 2022 Human Resources Report, 2021-2022 HIB data, hiring data, and a 2015 climate survey.

Ms. Shipper surveyed 253 students and staff members across the district (only students in grades 7-12 participated). Later, Ms. Shipper interviewed teachers, staff, and students in person, as well as the district’s six DEI committees. 

Emails were sent to parents and students, informing them of these non-mandatory opportunities. 

According to the survey, one in four students do not believe other students respect each other at school. Non-white students were more likely to report this. Sexuality, gender identity, race/ethnicity, and disability (including perceived disability) were the primary reasons for negative experiences with other students or teachers. 

The data lines up with personal experiences shared, anonymously, in group interviews. 

“In [class],  it caught me off guard, I felt so isolated… I heard them talking about the n-word, f slur, the slurs were thrown around, said really casually… They were using the words to be offensive, it made me freeze in my seat,” one student said. 

Students reported difficulty participating in classroom discussions, with 62 percent  of high schoolers saying they can’t have honest conversations about race and current events in school. 

For classroom management issues, like those above, Ms. Shipper recommends that the district provide more professional development for teachers on handling challenging conversations, reacting to offensive speech, and following up with students affected by it. 



Ms. Shipper also suggests that the district provide students with training on bias, bystander intervention, sexual harassment, and how to report an incident. 45 percent of high schoolers do not know how to report harassment or bullying. 

Students said they did not know how HIB reports are filed and processed, and they should receive annual training on this, too, according to Ms. Shipper. 

When they did need to file a report, students expressed reluctance.

“Everyone knows that you just made a report because you go to talk . . . and then a minute later the other student is called down, making it obvious to everyone,” a student said. 

Ms. Shipper also recommended restructuring disciplinary action within the district.

After a student reports an HIB incident, there is no vetting process to determine if the report should be investigated. Ms.Shipper says that if a potential case does not violate school policy, then an administrator should contact the person who filed the report and explain the issue.

This would reduce investigators’ caseload, allowing them to give each case greater focus. 

Ms. Shipper also directs the district to hire a Restorative Justice expert to provide insight into reshaping disciplinary practices at VHS. 

According to the report, students and the wider community would benefit from exchanging punishments like detention for restorative justice: a process where the accused student works to correct their mistakes in the community. However, restorative justice is a complex practice to implement and will take time, if the district chooses to explore it. 

Ms. Shipper also recommends creating a system to ensure HIB cases reach completion. In at least one case, an investigator missed a deadline and a case fell through the cracks. The report says this can lead to unaddressed harassment, which could lead to legal trouble.

Superintendent DiGiuseppe says that Mrs. Ackermann, the head of counseling, will plan student training which will be led by guidance counselors. Mrs. Ackermann will also be chairing a climate survey for students from grades 5-12 in the future. 


Title IX


In Verona, Shipper says, “the scope and requirements of Title IX are poorly understood” by staff, with the exception of the Title IX Coordinator, Dr. Charles Miller. 

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in any publicly funded school or college. As it is currently understood, Title IX protects against discrimination due to biological sex, sexuality, gender identity, pregnancy/related conditions. It also provides protections against sexual assault. 

For most of its existence, the Title IX’s sexual misconduct policies were only applicable at the college level, but this was expanded to  K-12 education in 2020, only two years ago. The district needs to adapt to the recent policy change. 

Interviewees described comments “that, if true, would fall under the district’s definition of sexual harassment.” Ms. Shipper suggests that because some comments were made by members of the same sex, they were not recognized as sexual harassment. 

While reports could be code of conduct violations (and would be treated as such), they may not also violate Title IX, Superintendent DiGiuseppe said. The nature of any event would need to be determined by an investigation or grievance. 

Sometimes, when staff handled sexual misconduct cases, they would interview the affected student as soon as possible to determine what happened. However, this violates the new Title IX regulations, which requires the school to give students notice of interviews. 

To better the situation, Ms. Shipper recommends that all staff involved with Title IX cases receive training on best practices and recognizing Title IX issues. 

Superintendent DiGiueseppe says that all general teachers would receive virtual training. Dr. Miller, administrators, and guidance counselors will receive more extensive training. 

Additionally, Ms. Shipper said that the district should consider providing a confidential space and part-time crisis counselor for students to discuss issues of potential sexual harassment. These would not be recurring visits, but one or two sessions to help process recent issues, creating a safe space for students.


Staff Departures

During interviews, high school students said they formed bonds with teachers that left Verona in the past few years. In particular, students of color and LGBTQ+ students described these teachers as their “safe person” at school. What seemed to students an unexpected departure was “not only  to the educational environment, but also particularly disruptive to their emotional well-being.” 

While 7 of 6 percent of white students said there was someone who understood them at school, only 52.9 percent of non-white students agreed. 

However, because of staff confidentiality, the Board of Education and school leadership cannot share information about staff departures freely. 

Students also expressed exasperation over the recent turnover in the guidance department, with some students being assigned a new counselor each year.

 “My guidance counselor, it’s the third one I’ve had in three years. Why make a relationship with them? They’ll be gone in a minute,” one student said.

This is part of a larger trend that Ms. Shipper noted: more turnover with new staff.

When the established staff has “limited diversity,” the school must implement strategies to get new staff to stay with the district, Ms. Shipper says. 

“The District did not provide retention data for Black and Hispanic employees within the District, and it is suspected this is, in large part, because the numbers are too low to be meaningful,” Ms Shipper said about a lack of data.

While Ms. Shipper is not advocating for staff to be hired on the sole basis of increasing diversity, she does suggest the district offer programs for staff to increase pay while remaining as teachers and alternative paths to advancement.

For example, she recommends beginning a teacher mentorship program, in which senior staff are trained to mentor and advise newer hires. This would provide experienced teachers with a program to earn more without becoming administrators, and it gives structured support to new teachers.

The district should also survey staff on their experience working with the school on a regular basis and perform simple self-audits.

Interviewed students said that “culturally-responsive, sensitive, and inclusive displays” in the library created a safe environment for students, where they felt comfortable finding and discussing books on race, LGBTQ+ experiences, disability, immigration, and more. The district is advised to encourage these displays.