Oswego SD308 diversity director promotes inclusion for everyone

Oswego School District 308 Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jadon Waller delivers a report to the school board on June 6, 2022. (Mark Foster -- mfoster@shawmedia.com)

OSWEGO – Jadon Waller has a simple equation for promoting equality and diversity in Oswego School District 308.

“Equity is equivalent to love,” says Waller, every chance she gets.

After completing her first year on the job as the school district’s director of diversity, equity, inclusion and family engagement, Waller knows there is plenty of work yet to be done.

That includes educating some members of the public on what she is attempting to achieve.

“There’s an assumption that I’m here only for black kids or to make white kids feel bad,” Waller said.

Rather, Waller said the goal is a school environment that is welcoming for all students, parents, teachers and staff, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

Waller has conducted countless training sessions with district faculty, designed to encourage strategies for making all students feel included.

She has been a guest teacher in school classrooms, promoting empathy among students.

“I love to teach and take the pulse of a classroom,” Waller said.

And, Waller has formed several groups designed to give students a safe space to express themselves.

The most notable of these is Amplify, a group that delivers messages of equality with performances that include speeches, poetry readings, music and skits.

“If the people in our community can hear our kids they will listen,” Waller said. “We want to amplify their voices.”

Waller appeared before the Oswego School Board on June 6 to deliver a report on the district’s progress toward a more equitable environment. With an enrollment of more than 17,000 students, the district has grown more diverse over the past two decades. A total of 56% of the district’s students are white, 22% Hispanic, 9% African-American, 7% Asian; and 5% multi-racial, according to information provided by the district.

School board members indicated both strong support for Waller’s efforts as well as a recognition that she faces considerable resistance in some quarters.

“You’re creating an inclusive environment,” board member Eugene Gatewood told Waller.

“This is necessary if we want a great school district,” board member Dominick Cirone said. “This is work that needs to get done.”

Board President LaTonya Simelton said that inclusion does not come at someone else’s expense.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Simelton said. “There is enough for everyone. We’re not trying to take away from others.”

Still, Waller has received plenty of communications from parents and others that could not be described as fan mail.

“You’ve received a lot of hate,” board member Jennifer Johnson said bluntly.

Yet Waller seems unperturbed, focusing on efforts to update the district’s bullying and sexual harassment policies, provide outreach and support for bilingual students and work to recruit and retain people of color on the staff.

More faculty and staff training sessions will be held this summer, with topics like “Courageous Conversations in the Classroom.”

Waller is a graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora and a 2006 graduate of Northern Illinois University.

After college Waller embarked on a teaching assignment in the Chicago Public Schools as an English instructor.

She eventually became a dean at Dirksen Junior High School in Joliet, and then worked in the same role at Jewel Middle School in North Aurora, before returning to the Joliet school as assistant principal.

All the while, Waller continued with her own academic work, earning a doctorate in education.

Waller knows that some parents were not pleased when the school administration decided Oswego schools will not be teaching the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” starting with the 2022-23 year.

The Harper Lee classic has been a staple in school classrooms since it was published in 1960.

Despite the book’s solid civil rights credentials, its use of the N-word and what has been described as the “white savior” archetype are deemed problematic.

Waller said the district is working to decide on a replacement.

“There are so many other authors and experiences,” she said.

Oswego School District 308 Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jadon Waller, center, is shown here with high school student ambassadors Colton Sannito, left, and Aanya Roy. (Mark Foster -- mfoster@shawmedia.com)