Q&A With Assistant Superintendent Tom Oestreich about Racial Equity and Inclusion within the CCS District


Assistant Superintendent Tom Oestreich meets with representatives from Carmel Against Racial Injustice over the summer. According to Oestreich, this meeting was very helpful towards the district’s goal of achieving an “Identity Safe” classroom.

Cady Armstrong

What was discussed at your meeting with Carmel Against Racial Injustice (CARI)?

We had a very positive meeting together, and we have similar beliefs, (as well as) a similar vision for Carmel High School and really for the entire district. An important part of our Carmel Clay Schools strategic plan is to continually work to provide equity and inclusion for all students and staff, with the goal of having ‘Identity Safe’ classrooms and an identity safe workplace for our employees and so we we certainly value conversations and the opportunity to connect with different groups in the community, including (CARI) 


How is the district working to achieve the identity safe classroom?

First of all, as it is part of our strategic plan, one of the things that we’re looking to create in the very near future, is an equity and inclusion advisory committee. Every stakeholder in our school system certainly needs to play an integral role in creating racial equity in our school community, and we’re going to start there. In addition, we’re continually having conversations with our school board with our district and building level leaders, and it really does that understanding starts with leadership, which is why we’ve had our leaders attend an intensive summer long workshop with the Equity Institute on institutional change, and we will continue to obtain consultation and support, as we implement changes and identify strategies for supporting the equity work in each of our buildings.


So what exactly is the committee going to do?

The committee is going to look holistically at equity. We recognize that not only should our curriculum reflect our value of inclusivity, but also our interactions and relationships with all students. This includes providing social emotional learning through an equitable lens that recognizes and supports the diverse experiences of each of our students and supports their ability to learn and grow from their interaction with their peers and educators and that also encompasses what our goal is, (an) Identity Safe classroom.”


If there was ever an instance of racism, how should that be reported, and like also what were the consequences?

That should be reported immediately to a trusted adult, whether that’s a counselor or assistant principal. That adult then has the responsibility of reporting that to an administrator to a counselor, so that we can wrap support around that student. We want every single student to feel welcome, to feel loved, to feel cared for, to feel valued, that what they bring to school every every day is an important part of our Carmel Clay Schools community, and it is critical that if a student has experienced racism, that it’s reported immediately. Consequences will certainly vary. It’s certainly examined on a case by case basis, but it’s something I know that Dr. Harmas said in his address to our Carmel Clay Schools student body, that (racism) is something we’re not going to tolerate, and it is something that we will certainly follow up on and they’re very well maybe disciplinary consequences.”


Can you tell me a little bit more about the diversity website?

(It is) just the initial step in the work that we are going to, in our journey that we are going to be on as a district, and so that’s a first step in making sure that we recognize that we certainly can get better, in our equity and inclusion we’ll work with Carmel Clay Schools. It’s important to listen to the valued experiences, as I said earlier, on all students of all families in Carmel, and certainly really throughout our nation. This is not simply a Carmel concern or a Carmel focus. It should be a national, a world focus to ensure that everyone values everyone else’s experiences. So, we want to approach equity and inclusion in a purposeful way that will lead to lasting change, where students can feel that sense of connectedness and belonging. (The diversity website) is just an initial step to show that. 


What exactly is the website going to include?

So it’s going to include helpful links. It could include articles, understanding of equity inclusion, and understanding of what an Identity Safe classroom is. It’s important to be a resource page for all of those in our community, because we are going to be engaged with equity and inclusion work every school within the Carmel clay school so if someone comes to us. We’ll go to the website and it can give a very nice overview of some of the pieces of work we’re doing, and it’s a start. By no means is it meant to encompass everything that we’re going to do, but we want to show that this is important to us, and it has a place on our website.


Could you explain what exactly an Identity Safe classroom is?

It is a classroom where all students feel comfortable here for empowered affirmed safety, accepted and appreciated and feels as though they can share their ideas, their beliefs and not feel like someone is going to devalue what they’re saying. They want to feel that sense of belonging and feel like they, they can share just like any other student can share and even if they share something that someone else doesn’t believe in, we can have honest and transparent conversations and come to a place where we understand where everyone’s coming from. And I want everyone to feel comfortable sharing what they believe. Because that’s how we get better, is through diversity through diversity of thought. And I think that’s very important for all of us here in our community.


What is the district doing to make sure that students feel comfortable enough to go to a trusted adult?

Well, I think that’s a great point. And I know there is a group of teachers or then a group of teachers who feel very strongly about this work, and I’m talking specifically about Carmel High School right now. And it has to start at the building level. I know that there are trusted teachers all over Carmel High School that our students can go to. It’s important in my eyes that all of our adults, and all of our teachers, are trusted. If the student experienced racism or experiences any other issue that they can go to that adult and trust that adult, trust that that adult will follow up, and will listen and take care of that concern and it is addressed at all levels.


Is the district doing anything to further train the teachers with diversity training?

Yeah, that’s all part of our overall vision for equity inclusion. And so as I said earlier this summer, we had some of our teachers and leaders attend a summer long intensive workshop with the equity Institute on institutional change. And we’re going to continue that work through consultation with others. And as we implement changes, identify strategies for supporting our equity work in every building across the district so training will be an important part of it, but we don’t want a checklist. This is ongoing, important, focused work that we will continue to embed within the climate and culture of Carmel Clay Schools.


Do you have a timeline for exactly when you think that the committee will be formed?

The committee, from what I understand, is going to be formed this semester. So I know we are dealing with a lot, with coming back to school and COVID-19 and all of those pieces. But this is not a piece that can wait, in my opinion. It’s very important that this work get started. And we continue to engage those in our community that have a passion for equity inclusion work within (CCS) schools, and we’re working on identifying those individuals at this time. And it’s my hope that the advisory committee will be up and running this semester.


How are you selecting the committee?

We’ve already had a number of parents, teachers, administrators, reach out to us about our equity and inclusion work in the district and so we’re able to identify individuals who have already come forward, which is wonderful. And then through our administrators, through our Carmel Teachers Association, they have been on board with this work. And so we’re just going to bring everybody together. Parents have contacted us and the support has been extremely positive, and we all recognize that this is important work within our school district.


Is there anything else I haven’t asked you that you would like readers to know?

We want our students and staff to feel loved and cared for and appreciated, accepted safely, affirmed, empowered and supported. We believe that this will lead to a community that truly cares for and accepts one another. And we want our district to be a part of this effort, so that all students can certainly reach their full potential.

Eva Glazier, Cady Armstrong