Diversity, equity and inclusion training makes its way into both public and private schools in KC area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Parents across the country have been removing their kids from public schools in droves of late, many of them in opposition to divisive race-based curricula. But for some KC-area parents, there’s no escaping race-based instruction. 

Sophic Solutions, a “change management and consulting firm,” has been hired by multiple schools in the Kansas City region – public and private – to address “racial inequity” and to train teachers in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The founders of Sophic Solutions, Dr. Rodney Smith and his wife Stephenie, are self-described “change agents” and “community mobilizers,” whose radical views include “dismantling” America’s capitalist system and pursuing Marxist ideology by “redistributing power.” 

To help teach similarly problematic views, the Smiths use an “anti-racist” bingo card and a “white supremacy pyramid,” where they encourage white individuals to “give up money, time and power” to black individuals and consider the “boot strap” work ethic to be “covert white supremacy.”

Confirmed KC-area schools that have contracted for DEI training from Sophic Solutions include Platte County School District, North Kansas City School District, and Pembroke Hill School, considered the most elite private school in the state. 

North Kansas City School District first hired Sophic Solutions in December of 2017 and paid it $43,000 for “professional development services,” according to public records obtained via Sunshine Request by pro-transparency group Parents Defending Education (PDE). The district is still listed as a current client of the firm. 

Pembroke Hill School 

As a private school, Pembroke Hill is not required to disclose documents pertaining to its curriculum or consultation services rendered. But a concerned parent, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution, shared correspondence and materials relating to Pembroke’s new social justice curriculum with PDE.

The materials may reveal the driving force behind implementing the equity and race-based education: Pembroke Hill Head of School Brad Shelley.

During the riots and unrest across the country in the summer of 2020, a June 23, 2020 letter from Shelley to all Pembroke families instructed parents to “acknowledge the existence of systemic racism both in our country and in our school.” The letter also told parents to expect “purposeful and sustainable change in our culture, policies, procedures and curriculum.”

How did that email make parents feel? “Disturbed,” one parent told The Heartlander.

During that same month, Pembroke announced it had hired Sophic Solutions, seemingly to carry out Shelley’s promised “purposeful and sustainable change.” Sophic was hired for a variety of purposes, including hosting “community conversations,” setting up the school’s new DEI Advisory Board, and conducting both “DEI assessment conversations” and DEI professional development for staff.

The Smiths hosted two “All-Community Conversations” in August 2020, to which all Pembroke Hill parents were invited. According to a presentation used during the All-Community Conversations, provided to The Heartlander by PDE, the Smiths linked “equity” to criminal justice reform and framed U.S. history through the lens of The 1619 Project – a hyperpartisan New York Times project that attempts to reframe American history into a slavery-based narrative.

The presentation included “Anti-racist Bingo: Accountability Edition,” in which a bingo card carried instructions on how to be “anti-racist.” Those instructions said to “support bail-out efforts” of alleged criminals and “decolonize your bookshelf,” as well as “participate in reparations” and “give up money, time and power.”

Oddly, the center square on the bingo card reads, “NOTE: this bingo card is for you to use to hold yourself accountable, and maybe fellow white and non-black friends with who you can keep [sic] each other accountable. This is NOT to be used performatively, i.e. to ‘prove’ you aren’t racist (cause we are).”

That accusatory note raised parents’ eyebrows, since it seems less focused on diversity and inclusion than on condemning white students and pressuring them to “give up money, time and power” to black individuals.

“I view it as discriminatory and abusive against me and my family,” the anonymous parent said. “I don’t understand how some of this stuff is legal. It’s very nefarious.”

The Smiths continued the All-Community Conversation by presenting a “white supremacy pyramid” that, again, raised many parents’ eyebrows. The pyramid is split into two main parts: “Covert white supremacy (socially acceptable)” and “Overt white supremacy (socially unacceptable).” 

The pyramid teaches that saying “Make America Great Again” and “But we’re just one human family” are acts of “covert white supremacy.”

In December 2020, Pembroke sent three adults and six students to a virtual meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference, according to the school’s website. The next month, the Pembroke “DEI team” created the new position of “Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.”

In July 2021, Pembroke partnered with School Smart KC, a Kansas City-based activist group, and Beloved Community, a New Orleans-based activist group, to host “Equity in Schools Cohort with Beloved Community.” Beloved Community recommends “racial identity caucuses: one for white staff, one for Black staff, and one for non-Black people of color.”  (Editor’s note: The organization capitalizes “Black,” but not “white,” when referring to race.) 

Critics argue such blatant segregation would be a blueprint violation of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At a Feb. 1, 2021, parent council meeting, upper school English teacher Jermaine Thompson explained the English department was “very committed to introducing students to various lenses of critical theory” including “prison lit.,” “eco-criticism,” “postcolonialism,” “immigrant literature” and “feminist criticism.”

On Thompson’s suggestion, the “entire English department” attended Robin DiAngelo’s October 2019 White Fragility book lecture at UMKC to “interrogate our own attachments to whiteness as a destructive power structure.”

“Putting aside this whole divisive, abusive, discriminatory nature of what’s happening at Pembroke, it’s affecting the education,” the anonymous parent later said. “The key is to let parents know that this stuff is not only just bad, and probably illegal, but it’s diminishing the education.”

Pembroke’s immersion into Sophic Solutions’ DEI and race-based teaching ideology inspired a number of concerned parents and alumni – who also wish to stay anonymous in fear of retribution from the school – to start a website detailing Pembroke’s social justice indoctrination. PembrokeParents.org features a timeline of substantial changes made in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion the parents find serious fault with. 

“After the events of the summer of 2020, many changes of a political nature occurred at Pembroke Hill,” the website reads. “We believe many of these changes are too radical and divisive. We encourage the Pembroke Hill administration to adopt a less extreme strategy when addressing political issues in our school.”

“[Pembroke] bills itself as a college preparatory school and claims a high number of national merit scholars each year,” said Mary Miller, a private school advocacy associate for Parents Defending Education. “After hiring DEI consultants Sophic Solutions LLC, the school now highlights divisive teachings instead of exceptional academics. Parents want Pembroke to stick to its founding mission and focus on classic education and academic excellence.

“Parents and private school stakeholders should be aware that their schools may be hiring consultants who push activism and ideology in place of academics.”

Platte County School District 

Platte County School District, just north of Kansas City, paid Sophic Solutions a total of $30,800 between April 2020 and January 2022, according to public records obtained via Sunshine Request by PDE. Services rendered include “consultation services,” “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Workshop Series” and “Evaluation and Analysis.”

A 2020 meeting agenda obtained by PDE says Sophic Solutions has a goal to “develop and enhance quality educational/instructional programs to improve overall and individual student academic performance.” However, none of the tasks designated to the consulting firm include improving academic performance.

That leads some to suspect that students’ academic performance may be based on their willingness to perpetuate the race-based narratives the Smiths are instructing teachers to use, instead of the students’ actual grades.

The Podcast: “Sophic Solutions’ Cofounders on Systemic Racism”

On June 5, 2020 the Smiths appeared on a “Both Sides” podcast episode titled, “Both Sides #11: Sophic Solutions’ Cofounders on Systemic Racism.” On the podcast, Mrs. Smith made controversial comments that, once discovered by Parents Defending Education, led to backlash from the community, as parents are concerned about her rhetoric making its way into their children’s classrooms.

“That is why racism is a major tool to perpetuate capitalism,” Mrs. Smith said on the podcast. “Race needed to happen so that capitalism could thrive because there needed to be a group that existed to have less, so that those that were less could create more for others. So when we really think about the examination that it takes to really dismantle a system that is steeped in capitalism, which leverages racism to do the work, then we’re talking about this dismantling.”

Mrs. Smith later doubled down on her support for Marxist ideology, saying “there’s a need to redistribute power and to change structures.” A pillar of Karl Marx’s socialist view is that power is held by a particular group (the dominant class) at the expense of the rest of society (the subordinate class). 

Such comments have led parents and others to believe the Smiths’ consulting work in schools isn’t strictly about DEI training and correcting racial injustices, but that it’s also about dismantling the capitalistic system that made America a global powerhouse. 

The couple’s criticism of capitalism comes off as particularly ironic, as their client list includes one of the most expensive and elite schools in Missouri. With $146 million in assets and an annual tuition of over $26,000 for high school students, Pembroke Hill – and its prestige – is a direct result of capitalism. 

What is Sophic Solutions, and who are the Smiths?

According to public records, Sophic Solutions was founded in 2016 by the Smiths. Strangely, though, his and her profiles on LinkedIn.com list their company’s co-founding years as 2011 and 2007, respectively. So, which of the three years is it? 

Rodney Smith’s LinkedIn profile says he “serves as a Graduate Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City” specializing in “courses that address racial and ethnic diversity.” But he apparently no longer teaches there: According to UMKC Director of Strategic Communications John Martellaro, Smith taught classes for UMKC’s School of Education from August 2012 through the fall of 2021. 

Dr. Smith does currently serve as vice president for access and engagement at William Jewell College, which also has hired his Sophic Solutions. The school recognizes Sophic Solutions as diversity, equity and inclusion consultants to University President Elizabeth MacLeod-Walls, specifically assisting with the college’s “Radical Inclusivity” initiative.

Sophic Solutions’ priorities, as listed on its website, include voting for “people, policies and practices that support equity,” and always asking “‘What are the identity implications?’ when making decisions.” 

The parent who spoke with The Heartlander said Sophic Solutions can expect more backlash and pressure to teach children factually, instead of what is described as through “various lenses of critical theory.”

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