DiversityIS Leadership in Diversity Award

The 2019 DiversityIS Leadership in Diversity Award is a recognition of individuals from K-12 independent schools who encourage and support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students and employees and exhibit true leadership for diversity, equity, and inclusion. In its inaugural year, DiversityIS selected 21 honorees nominated by their peers.

Mel Abrams

Mel Abrams
Director of Equity and Inclusion, Upper School Dean, St. Andrew’s School, Savannah, Ga.
Abrams helps lead St. Andrew’s Professional Learning Community, and he also organized and founded a Parent Diversity Council. Abrams meets with each prospective family of color to discuss ways the school provides opportunities and values inclusivity but also the realities and challenges that underrepresented students may still face. He volunteered last year to teach physical education for Horizons Savannah, a program for low-income public school students that supports academic and personal growth.

Yvonne Adams

Yvonne Adams
Director of Equity and Inclusion, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, Austin, Texas
Adams goes out of her way to welcome students from underrepresented communities and make them not only feel seen but heard on campus. She takes them on field trips in Austin and does simple things like bringing a barber on campus or helping girls take down their braids. Adams leads the faculty of color affinity space and is a member of every hiring committee. She has pushed department chairs and the HR department to look past their biases in the hiring process. She challenges them to go outside of the normal independent school model of recruitment and retention to reach those not normally considered, changing the landscape of the faculty.

Varghese Alexander
Director of Community Pluralism, Assistant Dean of Faculty, and Mathematics Instructor, Asheville School, Asheville, N.C.
Alexander works in the community to establish relationships with populations of underrepresented students. His work is inspiring, and includes creating a free summer camp with a tutoring program. Alexander attends several conferences and hiring fairs for potential faculty from underrepresented groups. Most recently, he has worked to cultivate relationships with candidates of color.

Danica Attanasio
Assistant Principal and Chair of Diversity Committee, The John Carroll School, Bel Air, Md.
Attanasio helps make and guide curricular decisions to support underrepresented students through her work on the Diversity Committee. She attends conferences on leadership for female students and supports the school’s Holocaust Studies Program as well. She is a regular advocate for hiring diverse faculty and encourages the school to participate in the Association of Independent Maryland Schools Job Fair for Minority Teachers. “She knows, and she constantly informs, that we need to do a better job with this,” Principal Tom Durkin says

Katie Bradford
Diversity Chair, Denver Academy, Denver, Colo.
Bradford spearheaded the formation of multiple clubs and support groups for students, including a new Gay-Straight Alliance. She also organizes the representation of students at local and national diversity conferences each year. Bradford is the arts and media coordinator at Denver Academy and created a new piece of the curriculum called “Cultural Connections” to introduce students to diverse cultures around the world. She is an active member of the Colorado Diversity Network and attends diversity hiring fairs to recruit staff members. Bradford recently earned the Colorado University Queer Literacy Educator of the Year Award for her community service.

Tiffany Bridgewater, EdD
Head of Lower School, Louisville Collegiate School, Louisville, Ky.
Bridgewater works closely with faculty to broaden the curriculum so there is continual awareness and discussion of the ethnic and cultural perspectives of Black and Brown students in addition to monthly celebrations. She helped make changes to the history curriculum so educators can teach historical context. She made strides in diversifying the Lower School Parents Association, providing greater opportunities for bringing a diversity of thought and practice to the lower school. Bridgewater works with the head of school to ensure there is a viable underrepresented finalist candidate for every open job. She has demonstrated leadership in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion through her more than 10 years of work at the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (PoCC) and more recently with the Independent Schools Association of the Central States.

Connie Chiu
Director of Equity and Inclusion, Mirman School, Los Angeles, Calif.
Chiu is “a force to be reckoned with,” according to head of school Daniel Vorenberg. She has influenced all aspects of the school’s hiring practices, built affinity groups, and worked directly with admissions to move the needle on recruitment and retention. Chiu is actively involved in recruiting new faculty and screening for bias in all systems and policies. She is also part of the PoCC planning committee, partakes in public speaking, and is an advocate for the principles of social justice.

Nichole Franks
Director of Diversity, Alcuin School, Dallas, Texas
Franks invites important speakers, forms affinity groups, and has created two committees related to diversity. One of the committees is operated by students and the other by representatives from all parts of the community. She brings a unique perspective to combating discrimination on many levels. She also approaches the topic with enthusiasm for what can be achieved.

Ted Graf
Head of School, Headwaters School, Austin, Texas
Graf has made diversity a central part of the school’s mission, says development director Keelan Wackman. Graf focuses on ensuring teachers and students are familiar with the language of diversity and inclusion. He also works with area nonprofits to ensure the community is aware of opportunities to attend the school. Graf increased the number of faculty of color at Headwaters and has encouraged reflection through surveys and other opportunities. Due to Graf’s efforts, both teachers and students have attended and presented at the PoCC, the Montessori for Social Justice Conference, and other events in Austin and across the country.

Jack Hill
Head of Middle School and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Cambridge Friends School, Cambridge, Mass.
Hill leads efforts to recruit and retain faculty of color through the Equity and Community Committee. As part of the school’s strategic planning and student retention efforts, he encouraged a programming diversity audit from the board, which later provided the school with a better understanding of the climate of inclusion on its campus. He also spearheaded an Identity Book Club Chat Room for middle school students that affirms children’s identities. In March, Hill hosted a Faculty of Color open house, a networking event for educators of color. This year, he will lead a national dialogue on White fragility at Tufts University and in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Linda Lifsey Hughes
Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Natick, Mass.
Hughes has implemented a variety of all-school initiatives including student and faculty of color affinity groups, schoolwide Seeking Education Equity and Diversity training for adults, and welcoming outside speakers and hosting events. She provides safe spaces for colleagues and students who want to talk about issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Hughes was instrumental in creating the school’s formal statement on diversity and inclusion. She also helped establish the Hiring Task Force, which focuses on recruiting underrepresented faculty and staff.

Teresa Jenkins
Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, Tenn.
Jenkins is the faculty sponsor of the recently formed Black Student Association at St. Mary’s. In that role, she supported members of the group as they planned and presented the inaugural Black History Month program. Jenkins also works closely with the admissions office and is always looking for innovative ways to recruit and retain underrepresented individuals. She created the diversity and inclusion position less than a year ago. She has since been on a mission to increase underrepresented faculty and staff at not only her school but other schools in Memphis. Jenkins organized the inaugural Diversity Job Fair this year, which included more than 40 educators and 11 independent schools. She recently formed the Educators of Color group, which meets regularly to provide networking and support opportunities for diverse educators in the Memphis area.

Yann Lussiez, PhD
Head of School, Desert Academy, Santa Fe, N.M.
Lussiez created a nonprofit, the New Mexico Refugee Educational Bridge program, dedicated to bringing Afghan refugee students from the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre in Indonesia to attend Desert Academy. Additionally, he increased the school’s Native American population, created a scholarship that covers the full tuition for a low-income Hispanic student, and raised funds for tuition assistance. He volunteers on two nonprofit boards and helped create an internship program for students to work with the Santa Fe Council for International Relations.

Jason Mundy
Director of Equity and Community Engagement, Kent Denver School, Denver, Colo.
Mundy has a vision for making Kent Denver a community center that welcomes people of all backgrounds, says Dean of Students Bradley Jackson. Mundy hosts diversity events, founded and chaired the Colorado Diversity Network, supported students and faculty in the work of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and has connected students to local diversity conferences. Additionally, Mundy created a hiring fair for people of color in Colorado. He also participates in admissions meetings to provide input on how Kent Denver School can recruit more students from diverse backgrounds and make them feel welcome.

Erica Snowden
Dean of Lower School, Greene Street Friends School, Philadelphia, Pa.
Snowden has been instrumental in launching racial affinity groups at Greene Street and in developing a full curriculum around them. She also organized “Stay Woke Day,” a student-led day of diversity activities that attracts children from around the city. Snowden works on an individual level to advocate for and support students of color. Though not a formal requirement in her role, Snowden attends hiring conferences, helps interview candidates, and advocates for the hiring of teachers of color. Snowden also launched faculty affinity groups that give space for teachers and staff to process racial identity in a safe space.

Amy Taylor, PhD
Director of Student Services, The Benjamin School, Palm Beach, Fl.
Taylor oversees the diversity committee to give opportunities for underrepresented students to attend The Benjamin School, and she created a fund for them. she attends diversity meetings in the community, does community service with a diverse group of people, and brings diversity awareness trainings to the school. “Amy supports faculty and staff at The Benjamin School by listening to them, supporting their differences, and she brings groups and people together to learn and to relate to one another,” says Marisol Tejera-Mede, head of the World Language Department and Diversity Outreach.

Jasmin Taylor
Director of College Counseling, Francis Parker School, San Diego, Calif.
One of Taylor’s passions is ensuring that first-generation students are able to attend college. She operates a Spanish-speaking workshop to help students and families navigate the college application process. Taylor also founded a program called SPEAK (Shaping Peer Empowerment; Advocating Knowledge). The program covers a variety of identity development and socioemotional issues to empower students with an understanding of their experiences and identities while creating space for unique identity. She also provides mentorship to underrepresented faculty and staff and works with the Western Association for College Admission Counseling and the PoCC.

Brenda Villa
Equity Education Coordinator, Castilleja School, Palo Alto, Calif.
Villa spends countless hours ensuring that all families of underrepresented students, particularly those who speak Spanish as their primary language, understand the daily ins and outs of the community. She meets with grade-level cohorts on a monthly basis to check in, taking her lunch time to bond with underrepresented students. Villa also leads a student affinity group program, and as a result she has become the point person for the Latinx parent affinity group. She also heads a year-long enrichment program that meets two Saturday mornings a month and pairs Castilleja’s high schoolers with local students from underrepresented and low-income communities.

John Weaver
Director of Multicultural Programs, Community Service, and Student Leadership, Montverde Academy, Montverde, Fl.
Weaver plans service opportunities for students and faculty participants, exposing each to populations and individuals from various socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions, and age groups. He serves the community by helping to recruit employees from various ethnicities and has taken students to various leadership retreats celebrating diversity. Weaver has also arranged service trips to the Orlando Union Rescue Mission and to Chile, in addition to creating a service organization named Titus Mentoring. Weaver has changed the lives of thousands of high schoolers, says David Bernatavitz, dean of the upper school.

Abby Williams
Associate Head of School, St. Richard’s Episcopal School, Indianapolis, Ind.
Williams serves as co-chair for the Diversity Taskforce and was a driving factor in creating the Dean of Student Life and Inclusion position, which helps raise awareness, train faculty, and engage in discussions about diversity and inclusion with students. She works with the leadership team and families to ensure the school recruits qualified candidates from all backgrounds. She also identified and created a non-gendered bathroom and drafted a vision for the task force. In addition, Williams supports Jack and Jill of America and promotes programming through the Center for Leadership Development. She serves on the board for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, organizes blood drives, and supports Riley Children’s Hospital.

Rai Wilson, PhD
History Teacher, Admissions Officer, and Diversity Director, Francis Parker School, San Diego
Throughout his 14 years at Francis Parker, Wilson has always advocated for marginalized communities. His curriculum uses the structure of an existing discipline and intentionally finds the stories and histories that are all too absent from traditional school textbooks. Wilson created many of the school’s diversity clubs and affinity groups. He goes to the highest levels of leadership to ensure long-term funding for students and faculty to attend diversity conferences. As the Diversity Director, Wilson has been integral to the overall success and approach to ensure sustainable change. He sits on the board of another school in the community to support students and families who are from underserved backgrounds, are undocumented, or both.