Laura Gray: Iowa City’s unsung community hero

While the pandemic has largely put a hold on the things that make up daily life, it has yet to stop the work ICCSD Director of Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness Laura Gray does for the district.

Every day is an opportunity for ICCSD Director of Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness Laura Gray to bring improvements to the school district. From training the cultural proficiency team, to bringing emotional healing to students and staff, Gray has done it all, even amidst a global pandemic.

Before coming to the position, Gray had always known that she wanted to help educate the district in cultural proficiency. With a large amount of autonomy, she is able to help staff around the district. In addition to being the director of diversity and cultural responsiveness at ICCSD and leading the cultural proficiency team, Gray is also part of the equity advisory committee, the LGBTQ committee and the restorative justice team.

On a day-to-day basis, Director Gray leads with purpose and brings transparency, humility, empathy and integrity to her work.

“Director Gray is a gem to the Iowa City School Community District,” said Charita Martin, equity and engagement specialist for the ICCSD. “[We are] fortunate to have such an experienced leader. Working with Laura has motivated me to take initiative for action; her influence has guided me to work focused on restorative practices and culturally proficient teaching.”

Director Gray is a gem to the Iowa City School Community District. [We are] fortunate to have such an experienced leader. Working with Laura has motivated me to take initiative for action.”

— Charita Martin

Working against all odds of 2020, Gray still manages to continue her work and help those around her.

“[Gray] is resilient. In the year 2020, we have encountered a pandemic and issue of social justice in our nation. With every endeavor Director Gray has successfully continued her work within the system, meanwhile discovering ways to bring emotional healing to our students and staff. This is powerful and empowering,” Martin said.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited face-to-face contact, it has not ceased the work done by Gray. It has only highlighted educational gaps for marginalized students and increased the demand for her work. The latest project led by her is the mandatory culturally proficient teaching training for teachers and staff, where conversations of implicit bias and privilege are held and teachers are trained in culturally responsive teaching.

Even though Gray is the one leading the trainings, they have been a gratifying experience for her.

“It’s been rewarding to have the amount of staff trained in cultural proficiency that we do, I am super impressed with the work the LGBTQ committee did to create the admin. guidelines,” Gray said. “I am also in awe of our restorative justice trained staff (either trained by our team or elsewhere) who implement circles and other restorative practices in their buildings regularly, and the fact that we have bought in to support the rollout of culturally responsive teaching practices in our district.”

As for students that wish to stay informed on equity issues in the district, Gray said, “Learn as much as you can regarding cultural proficiency. Attend the board meetings and equity advisory committee meetings to stay abreast of what is occurring in the district. Communicate with your administration if and when you feel you are being discriminated against or treated unfairly by others.”

Although there is still work to be done, Gray praises the district in its effort to provide a more equitable experience for all students.

“We have an outstanding school community. If you’ve never been exposed to another school district, you might miss that fact and mostly focus on areas in need of improvement. However, those of us who have been exposed to other districts can attest to the fact that while we have a ways to go in regards to equity, we are making strides in the right direction, and are actually leading this work in regards to other districts comparable to ours.”