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IW schools add equity coordinator

Kiyaana Jones is Isle of Wight Public Schools’ new coordinator of equity and inclusion.

Jones will work with all students, parents, staff and the community on issues of diversity, including race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities to create an environment where everyone has a chance to learn and grow.

Superintendent Dr. James Thornton announced that Jones had joined the division at the school board’s Jan. 14 meeting. Jones introduced herself through a six-minute video shared at the meeting and on the division’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

“The work that I have been called to do alongside all of you will feel like hard work but in fact will be heart work — heart work — that will require time,” Jones said in the video. “Building a diverse, inclusive community for learning, living and working in the Isle of Wight County School District is central to our district’s vision, which is to create a learning environment that will enable every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents.”

Jones comes to Isle of Wight from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where she was assistant director of multicultural life and the emerging leaders program. In that role, she led campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion training, supported student-directed projects and events, such as a multicultural council and founded and developed a program for first-generation marginalized college students.

She graduated from Arts High School in Newark, N.J. in 2003, holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and expects to complete a master’s degree in 2022 from the International Institute of Restorative Practices.

On its website, the institute describes restorative practices as “an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities.” Her professional background also includes experience in leadership and training roles in communities of faith, creative arts, theater, dance and community nonprofit organizations.

Jones said she’ll advocate for educators to have “courageous conversations” and work to empower students to feel confident in who they are in the classroom and beyond. She said she’s excited that she, her husband and children will be part of Isle of Wight and said the community’s input and support is important.

“The journey to equity and inclusion is one less traveled and often avoided because it can be difficult to discuss inequities in race, gender and socioeconomic status. Thus, true transformation requires the collective effort of a community,” Jones said.

Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs said Jones will work closely with Thornton and work directly with assistant superintendent Mike Lombardo. In the video introduction, Thornton explained why the new position and the work it entails is important.

“There may be some in the community who don’t see a need for this position,” Thornton said. “On the surface, it may seem that way. But I imagine many of those people who feel that way don’t find themselves identifying with any marginalized groups.”

At the start of the Jan. 14 meeting, Jackie Carr was re-elected chairwoman, Denise Tynes was chosen as vice chairwoman and Tracey Reutt will continue in her role as the board clerk for the five-member group.