St Mark's School

St Mark's - Case Study

Richard DaSilva
Richard DaSilva, St. Mark's School's director of community and equity affairs

Can you give a bit of context about St. Mark’s as a school, as well as your role?

St. Mark’s is a small New England independent boarding/day school with 375 students in grades 9-12. St. Mark’s focuses on academic rigor, residential programming, and relationship building. Like similar schools, St. Mark’s has a rich hi

story and tradition. As for my role, I'm the Director of Community and Equity Affairs, and I just completed my first year here in Southborough, MA. My background has been in independent schools; this is my 28th year in the Independent School system. I've been a history teacher, a dean of students, and a director of international programs. As a person of color, I bring to this role a strong understanding of how schools like St. Mark’s can build better communities for all students.

What made you decide to sign up St. Mark’s to be the first independent school in the US to partner with FLAIR?

I was sold after talking to Nii about his vision for FLAIR. Having already spent a few months in my role here at St. Mark’s, I was confident that we had strong intentions for improving our community and equity work. However, there was no accurate data to create a solid foundation for DEI initiatives. In my view, St. Mark’s was willing to invest resources in improving its community but had not yet established a program or process to measure growth. I was excited that FLAIR would provide St. Mark’s with a starting point, a means to benchmark against other schools like St. Mark’s, all while offering me the ability to measure progress and allocate resources properly. I believe FLAIR, for independent schools, is a game changer and will provide my school with honest feedback and information that will allow us to focus directly on our ambitious goals.

What challenges were you facing when understanding your school’s culture?

The greatest challenge in understanding the culture at St. Mark’s was being new to it. While my nearly three decades of experience in independent schools were helpful, St. Mark’s has a distinct culture with an expressed history, as well as its Episcopalian identity. It took most of last year to comprehend the systems at play and the actual capacity of St. Mark’s to change. Many schools boast about funding, speakers, and other programs they claim will help them build better communities. While I believe those things are important, real change is impossible if the school isn't committed. I knew the worst thing I could do would be to try to come in and make immediate changes. So, I spent a fair amount of time meeting with students and adults and observing how St. Mark’s School operates. I can honestly tell you that after a full year, I feel like I'm still learning about the culture, but I'm in a much better position to execute my ideas and philosophies around this work.

How did you go about educating your community about the analysis you would be undertaking with FLAIR?

For the most part, besides all that I could learn about the FLAIR survey program, I utilized the resources available to FLAIR users. I used FLAIR’s pre-made videos and emails to effectively inform the St. Mark's community. They were easily accessible and very convenient.

How did different stakeholders within the community react to St. Mark’s partnership with FLAIR? Was there any pushback?

We're fortunate that there wasn't much pushback from anyone in the community. I can credit Nii and his team for being transparent in explaining what FLAIR will do for our school. Simultaneously, our conversations have educated me to a point where I feel knowledgeable enough to confidently explain why FLAIR is vital to our efforts at St. Mark’s. Ultimately, my understanding of what FLAIR offers translated into confident conversations with the stakeholders of St. Mark’s, including the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, and families.

What environment did students and staff/faculty complete the questionnaire in? Why did you choose to administer it that way?

We administered the survey in grade groups, and while it was primarily practical, next year, I plan to guide the surveys better and conduct them in advisory groups instead. Advisory groups, which are generally smaller, will allow for a greater response rate and more comfort in completing the study. Additionally, before next year's launch, I will enhance the training of faculty and other adults so that they can answer any questions and address any uncertainties within their groups. I see no reason for the response rate at St. Mark’s not to be as close to 100% as possible. Conducting surveys in advisory groups rather than grade groups, I believe we'll have a significantly better chance of achieving the highest response rate.

How challenging were the results to interpret?

Interpreting the results from our FLAIR survey was straightforward. The dashboard is user-friendly and easily accessible, and the information supporting the results is clear and concise. After the results were shared, it took only a few minutes to navigate the dashboard, review the indicators, and check the summaries. I quickly identified our strengths and areas that needed improvement. The dashboard presented our results in an accessible manner, allowing me to immediately understand where my office should focus for the upcoming year.

How do you plan to use the results from FLAIR’s questionnaire in the future?

The results and data provided direct insights into the school's culture regarding racism. While there is ample room for improvement, our primary focus in the upcoming year is based on the results, indicating that our faculty and staff need assistance in becoming more confident and comfortable when addressing racial issues and events as they occur in real-time. To put it plainly, our community has significant work to do in interrupting racist behavior, whether in the moment or through our own bias-based incident reporting system. While addressing these issues will be our main focus this year, the results have also highlighted other areas that we will tackle with additional and specific programming.

What advice would you give to a school considering partnering with FLAIR?

I recommend that any school interested in FLAIR contact Nii and his team to learn about the services offered. As I mentioned, over the past few years, independent schools have invested significant resources and funding in improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in their communities. I can only imagine how successful these efforts could be with a survey plan like FLAIR. From my perspective, improvement requires knowing the current state of the institution and identifying the topics and issues that must be addressed. Unfortunately, many independent schools have focused their funding and resources on general programs, resulting in minimal progress. Any school considering partnering with FLAIR, especially those committed to the process, will immediately gain an advantage. They will not only understand what is happening at their schools but also the actual potential for change. DEI work often relies on anecdotes and attempts to win over hearts and minds. With FLAIR, we add authenticity and data to our toolbox. I have great confidence in the goals I have set for St. Mark’s over the next few years, mainly due to our partnership with FLAIR and the survey's ability to provide me with the information I can effectively use to make my school and community the best for all students.

What are the current goals of St. Mark’s when it comes to racial equity?

Here are the commitments supported by St. Mark’s regarding DEI and antiracism.

Diversity & Equity @ St. Mark’s

St. Mark’s strives to create a School community where everyone feels fully admitted, understood, and accepted for all aspects of who they are.

St. Mark’s School provides an exemplary education in an intentionally small residential setting defined and enriched by our Episcopal identity. This identity includes an emphasis on self-reflection, continual communal examination, and respect for all. If we are to embody these values, we must empower our students to embrace and express their individual identities fully and without fear of bias—because it’s the best way to prepare students to succeed in our global world because it enhances students’ social and critical thinking skills, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Antiracism @ St. Mark’s

To create a truly inclusive community, we must become an antiracist institution.

St. Mark’s has always encouraged curiosity, self-reflection, personal development, and service. These are the same values that inspire us now to deepen our commitment to building an inclusive community where every student is heard and respected for who they are. To make good on the promise of equity that has always been part of our mission—and to support our students as they realize the full promise of their potential—we are embarking on a community-wide antiracism initiative.

At its core, antiracism signifies a belief that every student deserves to benefit fully from the powerful education and opportunities that St. Mark’s provides and that the only way to achieve this goal is to acknowledge and collectively work to understand how people of diverse backgrounds, races, and cultures experience the world. The first step in this process is the creation of our Antiracist Strategic Plan, which outlines specific steps that will bring us closer to our goal of becoming an antiracist institution.

While we have not always lived up to our ideals for our students of color, we are determined to learn from the past and chart a brighter future. Perhaps more than ever before, we remain profoundly committed to the success of every St. Mark’s student.

Our Commitment to Diversity

St. Mark’s School seeks to reflect the increasingly diverse world in which our students presently live and will live in the future. We intend to provide our students with a superior education in a community of students, parents, faculty, and staff that represents a variety of racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.

We strive to ensure respect for all regardless of sex, gender, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, family structure, or economic background.

In support of our objective, St. Mark’s School:

- will continue to give special importance to the inclusion of all people persons from all groups within our society, our student body, our faculty, and our staff —particularly those who have experienced prejudice and disadvantage.

- will provide all members of the school with a range of appropriate opportunities to develop skills for living in a diverse community and integrate diversity initiatives throughout the school program.

- will empower all members of the St. Mark’s community to share their differences as well as their common experiences to enhance their education.

St. Mark's promotes awareness around cultural differences and provides affinity opportunities for students whose social or identity needs are not reflected in the dominant culture at St. Mark’s through Community and Equity Affairs.