Michelle Gavel, current coordinator of equity and diversity for Springfield Public Schools, will serve as director of the Department of Student Access and Opportunity effective July 1. The department was formerly known as the Office of Equity and Diversity. (Photo: Provided by SPS)

Last year, the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Grenita Lathan completed the process of drafting and shaping the district’s 2023-2028 strategic plan for the first time since Lathan was hired.

The prior plan included five governing priorities, with the fifth being a focus on equity and diversity. Efforts surrounding equity and diversity were folded into one of four governing priorities in the new plan, titled “Success-Ready Students.” And the new name of a district department will reflect that.

The district has renamed its Office of Equity and Diversity. It will be called the Department of Student Access and Opportunity, and it has a new leader, according to an SPS announcement about a number of top-level administrative promotions and transitions. 

Michelle Gavel, the district’s current coordinator of equity and diversity, will become director of student access and opportunity starting July 1. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, the former chief equity and diversity officer, has transitioned to the role of college and career access specialist.

The Department of Student Access and Opportunity staff will work alongside the district’s Department of Family Support Services “to ensure SPS students and families have the support needed to succeed,” according to a news release. Lathan said the new department aligns a number of services for students under one umbrella and one supervisor. 

“I would say to someone as they are looking at this realignment, for them to know that we’re trying to put all those resources and all those outstanding leaders together to make sure we’re not missing or not serving children that need to be served,” Lathan said. 

She said the decision is part of an overall effort “to ensure that every child (in SPS) has access to various opportunities that will prepare them to be success-ready, whether it’s going into the workforce immediately after high school, (or) going directly to college, to the military.” 

Gavel’s office will be responsible for supporting a “smart goal” listed in the strategic plan under the district’s priority of developing success-ready students, to “review programming to ensure equitable access to opportunity for all students.” 

Read the full ‘smart goal’ from district strategic plan (Click to expand.) 

Smart Goal 1.4.1: Examine processes that remove barriers and provide access in order to maximize educational impact. 

Champion: Director of student access and opportunity (formerly championed by the chief equity and diversity officer)

Key Metrics: Student feedback surveys, student achievement data, pre-participation vs. post-participation data, educator survey feedback, number of site mediations 

Baseline: End-of-year department data from 2021-2022 will be used to compare future growth and the 2022-2023 school year will be used as a baseline for engagement and academic programs 

Target: Increase total number of students (2%) and sites served (+5) by mentoring programs, increase formalized District agreements by one per year, Increase community partnerships to enhance student programming, maintain or increase FY23 student participation rates in the Future Educators Grow Your Own Program, assess current family engagement pilot model and expand programming opportunities 

Strategy A: Enhance and expand academic programming for PreK-12 students that improves student achievement and belonging. 

Strategy B: Evaluate community partnerships with a focus on enhancing ongoing equity efforts. 

Strategy C: Collaborate with the Human Resources Department to ensure SPS is a welcoming and inclusive district that values diversity and utilizes equitable practices for attracting, hiring, and retaining the most qualified staff. 

Strategy D: Develop initiatives that promote and increase family engagement while also addressing barriers for students. 

Strategy E: Examine current and future programs to identify and minimize barriers to access. 

Lathan said the decision aligned with the board’s goals during the strategic planning process. 

“They were clear, too, we needed to make sure our departments are aligned and to focus on that same mission of getting students to that finish line as it relates to graduating from high school and being ready for the next stage of their life,” she said. 

The final version of the strategic plan was supported unanimously by an oft-divided board, which split 4-3 on several last-minute votes regarding proposed changes to the wording of it. That included phrasing surrounding the district’s strategy to develop a diverse workforce. Gavel has been the point person for one of the district’s recent workforce efforts, the Future Educators program.

The reorganization and renaming was noted in a news release announcing a number of top-level personnel moves. Along with Gavel’s promotion to director and Garcia-Pusateri’s move to college and career access specialist, three other promotions and one new hire effective July 1 were announced. They include:

  • Bret Range, currently executive director of student and school services for SPS, will be the district’s new chief human resources officer, replacing the retiring Bill Redinger.
  • Bruce Douglas, currently SPS director of information technology, will become the district’s named chief information officer.
  • Rick Carpenter, currently executive director of operations of the Center School District in Kansas City, will join SPS to take on the same role here. The position oversees facility maintenance, nutrition services, custodial and grounds work, transportation, purchasing/distribution, school police and capital construction projects. 
  • Katie Kensinger, currently coordinator of college and career readiness for SPS, will become director of college and career readiness. The expanded role oversees the “district’s continued growth of career and technical education for grades 6-12,” according to a news release. Lathan said this position also combines two departments under one umbrella. 

More information about how the strategic plan will be carried out will be shared across the district and the community at large starting next month, Lathan said.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson