New DEI Director Steps Up in PUSD

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard addresses a panel in her time as superintendent in Albany, New York.

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard addresses a panel in her time as superintendent in Albany, New York.

Elena Stevens, Staff Writer

PUSD’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director has been writing her own job description. 


In December 2021, Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, better known to students as “Dr. V”, was hired to take on a new position within the district: DEI Director. As she is the first in the district to hold this position, Vanden Wyngaard’s job is largely without a set agenda. Her primary aim is to encourage diversity-driven work within the district.

“This is a brand new position, and so it’s been up to me to think about how I’m going to frame this work. Eventually, we’ll be able to codify it,” Vanden Wyngaard said. 

Vanden Wyngaard taught secondary choral music for fourteen years before embarking on a different pathway, returning to school to earn her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Kent State University. Since then, she has worked in a variety of leadership roles within education at the state, university, county, and local levels. Now, Vanden Wyngaard’s role at Piedmont is to be, as she puts it, a “trainer of trainers.”

“When you think about it in terms of customers, [the students] are the byproduct for me. My customers are the building leaders. My direct work with them has an incredible influence on [the students] because they work with the teachers,” Vanden Wyngaard said. 

Because she doesn’t have a strict outline to follow, her work thus far has been largely reactive. She responds to requests from staff and students, providing training and other resources on DEI as needed. Interim Superintendent Dr. Donald Evans has a different vision for the role. 

“I want her to move away from being reactive and be more proactive. We react to everything and we need to get ahead of things,” Evans said.

In efforts to begin connecting directly with students and amplifying their voices, Vanden Wyngaard recently created a Student Advisory Committee composed of different leaders of social justice and affinity clubs. The committee will discuss issues that they view as important, which will in turn provide direction for adults on how to proceed with DEI work.

Despite these outreach attempts, there are many within the student body who still don’t know the position even exists. 

Junior Derek Schleuning is one such student. While he wasn’t aware that Piedmont had created the position, once informed, he said he believed that the position was important considering Piedmont’s lack of diversity. 

Sophomore Genevieve Hiller believes that hiring Vanden Wyngaard was a step in the right direction in Piedmont’s DEI journey. 

“Adults in administration will [say] they’re against racism or acknowledge that [there is a] problem, but there’s never things actually done [to address it],” Hiller said. 

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard and student leaders at a meeting with Dr. Shakti Butler, filmmaker and activist. (Dr. Vanden Wyngaard)

While Hiller’s confidence in Vanden Wyngaard’s abilities have grown as she has taken steps to reach out to students, Hiller understands the doubt surrounding the position of the new DEI Director. 

“You’re not going to see statistical, concrete evidence of [change] right away, even though she’s been here for [a while] now. It’s something that we’ll see the effects of what she’s done in a year or two,” Hiller said. “You have to put trust in her.”

Vanden Wyngaard said she is aware of skepticism surrounding her role, and isn’t surprised that it exists within Piedmont’s community. As shown in the recent PUSD school board elections, there is a population within Piedmont who doesn’t believe in the validity or efficacy of DEI work, or that Piedmont as a community needs to improve in that area.

However, she said these doubts don’t discourage her efforts. She said that she believes DEI is about preparing students for the reality of life and developing the ability to engage in the difficult conversations that she says the United States has never wanted to have.

“For me, we can’t be excellent without equity. We can’t say we’re the greatest district in the world if we continue to marginalize and do all of the oppressive things that organizations do for students of color. Our academic excellence shouldn’t be determined by the color or hue of [our] skin. That’s just heredity. So for me, to not talk about [DEI] does an incredible disservice for this community. This community deserves to be better than it already is,” she said. 


Though her work might not have a definitive description, everything Vanden Wyngaard does is inspired by her mission statement: “try to inspire people to do things so that together, we can change the world.