The first personal touch to Ayan Omar’s new desk was a picture of her daughters.
Omar, who had been a language arts teacher in the St. Cloud school district since 2014, began her new role as director of equity services with the district on Dec. 6. As director, Omar is responsible for the coordination of educational programs and services to improve equity. She is the first Somali-American in the role.
“My 8-year-old is enrolled in the district. And that only heightens or emphasizes my new role," Omar said. "Not only do I live in St. Cloud, not only am I invested in this community and have been since 2005, but having a child that is involved in the district with her own individuality, her own biracial, bicultural background, the work that needs to be done is just only heightened.”
A member of the superintendent’s cabinet, Omar will also be completing reports to the school board and other community agencies, said district Superintendent Willie Jett. The role was previously held by Ellen Stewart.
Jett said the position is responsible for helping plan staff development and overseeing development and evaluation of parent programs.
“And the bottom line is, it's improving equity and excellence in education," Jett said.
The department of equity services includes an American Indian and equity programs supervisor, a coordinator of equity programs and an administrative assistant.
Some of Omar’s recent work with the equity department helped provide interpreters at district COVID-19 vaccine clinics. The department worked closely with CentraCare and the county to ensure parents and children had access to the vaccine and health information, Omar said.
Executive Director of Learning and Teaching Lori Posch works closely with the director of equity services to make sure all students are successful and that it is done in partnership with communities.
That work together includes developing the school's achievement and integration plan and the strategies to implement it, which is submitted to the state, Posch said. The school's current plan has been in place since July 2020 and goes until June 2023.
Teaching experience in leadership
Bringing recent classroom experience to leadership is always important, Posch said.
“We often associate equity with diversity and race and religion and culture, and it is all of that," Omar said. "But over time in my profession, in my position as a classroom teacher, I've learned so much of equity is rooted in needs. We have diverse needs in our school district, but also, as a teacher, I've learned what those needs are."
In addition to her teaching experience, Omar has also been a faculty speaker for graduation, selected by students.
“She’s a well-respected educator and teacher, not just by her peers, but by students, by families and people out in the community and within our community," Jett said. "She’s able to communicate and relate to our staff. She’s able to communicate and relate with all of our students.”
Equity comes down to access, opportunity, belonging and addressing how students feel in their learning community, Omar said.
A foundation for educating children is gaining their attention, said St. Cloud Area School District School Board Clerk Les Green. Sometimes that attention comes from children seeing people like them represented in the subjects they study.
“And so that's what I would hope that she can do: help the system itself, educate children in a way that causes them to enjoy education and get excited about it and continue forward,” Green added.
There’s always work to be done when it comes to equity in education, Omar said.
“We know the value of representation, and we're starting to have that conversation more and more. But when I think of my identity and the various intersectionalities, I'm a Muslim, Black woman, refugee, so my identity is so layered that I feel my position as the director of equity definitely sets an example, not only an example, it sets a tone of acceptance, but for our students, it is the measurement of success and hard work and dedication to learning,” Omar said.
This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Former teacher is St. Cloud School District's new equity director