Episode 100

Diversity in schools today

Guest:Gail Kist-Kline

In this episode, host Joel Gagne is joined by Gail Kist-Kline, the superintendent of Mason City Schools in the Cincinnati area. Gail has spent more than 30 years in the public school system and has experienced how schools view and internalize the idea of diversity. The two discuss the importance of diversity in schools today and how it’s essential to a school’s success. 

Asked about how views on diversity have evolved over the course of her career, Gail points to three distinct phases. Early on, diversity was talked about in the context of tolerance. Then diversity was embraced. In this third and current stage, diversity in schools today is seen as essential to success.

“We can’t be successful as organizations, or as people, unless we are bringing in diverse thinking and diverse voices to the work that we do,” says Gail, who grew up in a small, mostly white rural community before teaching in an urban environment with representation from many backgrounds.

Gail notes that diversity in schools today encompasses more than just race, also including religious and sexuality differences, among other things.

Diversity is important in both education and business, Gail says. She talks about the book What Really Matters, by former P&G CEO John Pepper. Gail says organizations have to be intentional, and not haphazard, about these efforts.

“We can’t be innovative unless we have diverse thoughts around the table,” she says. “And that doesn’t come just by accident. You have to be really mindful about it.”

Gail talks about the difficulty of decision making, and how leaders should think with a community lens and not just about how a single individual will be affected.

Education has changed significantly in the last five years, she says, and will be very different in another five or 10 years from now. Staying focused on what’s important is key.

“We will continue to face a lot of competing goals,” she says. “How do we continue to make diversity essential to our success and a high priority with lots of competing goals?”

Gail and Joel discuss the importance of building a professional network throughout a career.

“If you let those relationships fade, it’s harder when you’re really trying to be vulnerable to that person and saying, hey, I need help,” Gail says. “Resources are right there at your fingertips.”

They discuss lessons learned from a superintendents’ conference, including the importance of building a network of women leaders.

Closing out the episode, Gail recommends the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum. The book, about diversity in education, has been re-released and is highly relevant to current issues, Gail says.

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