Worthington Schools' new director of diversity, equity and inclusion building relationships

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
Toya Spencer is the first director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Worthington Schools. She is pictured outside the district office building Aug. 12.

Toya Spencer essentially is on a listening tour of Worthington Schools and the greater community.

The recently appointed director of diversity, equity and inclusion said she has spent the past few weeks gathering input from principals, administrators and teachers to build an intellectual foundation for her new role.

Spencer, who started her job Aug. 3, said she will rely on the direction of Superintendent Trent Bowers as she proceeds in the newly created position.

"Trent has outlined what he wants this role to look like," said Spencer, 47. "Again, I would say we're being very slow to come out with a list of precise goals because I think, personally, I want to understand the community.

"It's a collaborative effort."

"Toya will work as a cabinet member of our central-office team to help make sure we are considering diverse student populations in our decision-making," Bowers said. "She'll build relationships with students and community members to help us improve their experience. She'll help design and lead staff training, and she'll work to create community education programs.

"Immediately, we want Toya to build relationships, learn about Worthington Schools, and we're super excited that she's becoming a member of our Worthington Schools community, not only as a leader but also as a parent."

Her annual salary is $117,239, and her benefits contributions will be at least $12,896, though that could increase by up to $24,000 depending on the insurance options she selects, according to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda.

A native of Warren, Spencer earned her bachelor's degree from Kent State University and master's degree from Duquesne University.

Spencer said she spent nearly 20 years in the corporate world, starting out in merchandising for Abercrombie & Fitch and being promoted to human resources and then an executive position to "strengthen diversity, inclusion and cultural competencies across the organization," according to the Worthington Schools website, worthington.k12.oh.us.

She said she worked for other corporations, including Huntington Bancshares and Danaher Corp., where she worked in similar capacities and visited 20 countries in the process.

"I have no complaints," she said. "It was a great career. I just think life changes you, having children changes you and things become different.

"I knew the higher up I would move in the organization, the more demands there would be on my life, my personal life. I was at a crossroads."

Spencer is married to Mark Spencer, and they have a 6-year-old son, Langston. They live in Findlay but will move to Worthington in the next few weeks, she said.

In 2016, she said goodbye to the corporate life to spend time with her family.

Two years later, she started as a private contractor for a consultant teaching diversity, equity and inclusion in public schools.

"It just seemed to be more meaningful," she said.

Worthington recently has been a hub for community activists, Black Lives Matter protestors and a school board that has made some overtures to the Black community.

For example, the school board on July 27 voted 3-2 in favor of ending the district's school-resource officer program in which one full-time officer each was assigned to Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high schools.

That decision brought criticism from some community members and praise from others.

Spencer said she was hesitant to comment on the situation because she had not started her job with the district.

"I have not arrived at my own personal opinion of where I stand on either side," she said. "I haven't because I feel I don't know enough information."

The board also approved a resolution declaring itself an antiracist district and one with a commitment to social justice.

Again, Spencer reserved commenting specifically on the subject but said, "What I can speak to is I think there is an acknowledgement of the district, the school board to say we can do better. And I think hiring me in this role is an acknowledgment of that and a step in the right direction."

She said she has a good framework for her job, given her past occupational experiences, that would be "adaptable to the district."

"However, I have to make sure I'm not being presumptuous in knowing what the needs of the community are," Spencer said.

Although diversity and inclusion have been emphasized on a corporate, government and civic level, equity is somewhat new to the conversation, she said.

Equity, Spencer said, is "creating equal access and opportunity to things. Additionally, with equity, you are organizing for the whole participation of all demographics."

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary