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At the June 13 District 65 School Board meeting, Superintendent Paul Goren presented an equity statement for the District. The 10-point statement acknowledges that the District “must work proactively to acknowledge racial and cultural biases, and eliminate institutional structures and practices that affect student learning and achievement.” The statement says the District commits to raising the achievement of all students while eliminating academic predictability based on race, income, disabilities, gender identity, and status as an English-language learner. (See sidebar.)
Draft Equity Statement
Dr. Goren also presented a report on the District’s Racial and Educational Equity Initiative. The equity statement and the equity initiative grew out of questions posed in December by the NAACP, which in turn led to the Board’s dedicating its April 18 meeting to black student achievement. The District’s strategic plan, adopted last year, contains a goal and many strategies to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students. It does not, however, have a separate equity statement, and some community members pressed the District for such statement. Dr. Goren presented a draft statement at the May 23 Board meeting.
The June 13 statement was a somewhat revised version of the May 23 draft. In revising the statement, Dr. Goren said in a memo to the Board, he reached out to a “select group of civic leaders, including members of community organizations, the faith-based community, and social service agencies for comments,” and that he had received 70 comments, most of them positive and supportive.
Some of the comments, the memo said, argued that the statement should focus only on race, and some argued “for expanding the determinants of inequity.” Dr. Goren said he “elevated the primacy of race” and the statement also includes “language acknowledging the importance of equity for other protected classes.”
The most frequently suggested addition, Dr. Goren said, “was to mention partnerships with parents and family members,” something he included in the revised draft. He also said several of the respondents “suggested that the District convene a community-based ‘D65 Equity Advisory Group’ that parallels the internal District Equity Leadership Team. I am committed to convening such a group that would meet several times a year to review our equity work.”
Dr. Goren’s memo also highlighted the District’s equity work over the past few months, which included eight community conversations over the past year, six student focus groups, two staff conversations and two community caucuses – one on black student achievement and the second on Hispanic/Latino student achievement.
This summer, the District’s principals and senior leadership team are reading “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools” by Tyrone Howard, and “Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools” by Amanda Lewis and John Diamond.
The Equity Leadership Team will meet regularly, and administrators will attend the Courageous Conversations Regional Summit, Race Forward’s Racial Justice Leadership Institute, and the National Intergroup Dialogue Institute in the next few months. In the fall or near the opening of school, Gloria Ladson-Billings, author of “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children” will work with District staff on culturally relevant teaching practices, Dr. Goren’s memo said. The administration has convened the District 65 Equity Leadership Team and has engaged Corrie Wallace to perform an equity audit.
During citizen comment, Miriam Haak Barnett, Vice President of PTA Council, said the Council supports and applauds the District’s racial equity statement and policy.
PTA Council suggested identifying institutional policies that might foster inequities, provide training to staff, teachers and Board members, ensure that there are sufficient supports for African American and Latino students, and hire staff members that reflect the demographics of the school.
Roger Williams, a member of the Board of Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL), said he feels the plan for the equity audit lacks “urgency. … It will take at least 12 months to make a road map. Implementing the road map will begin in 18 months. This means that black and brown children will continue to be denied equitable education.” He recommended collapsing the proposed nine months allocated for school visits. (See accompanying story on equity audit.)
Sergio Hernandez, a volunteer with OPAL and a member of the board of Latino Resources, said, “The best practices are out there of how we engage students. I hope we don’t lose that momentum.”
Ongoing Equity Work
Board member Richard Rykhus said he wished to address certain comments made during citizen comment and “to reiterate our Board and administration’s commitment to dealing urgently with the matters of equity that are before it.” He said he thought it was a “fair question” to look at the time of the audit but also said he “wanted to do a quick recap” of the work the District has been doing over the past year or more.
Culturally responsive instruction is already in some schools and will be expanded to more in the next school years, Mr. Rykhus said. The School Climate Teams, already in place in some schools, are already working “to address many of the issues” and will be expanded next year as well. Restorative justice programs are active in some schools; there are partners for summer learning.” The Scorecard on the District’s website, district65.net, “tracks all our outcomes for the first time – visibly, transparently. … Alternatives to suspension has been implemented and we enforce [that] in our schools. These are all tangible actions that we’re taking right now – that aren’t waiting for a committee, that aren’t waiting for an audit. These are in action, and they’re being expanded next year. … We’re moving with urgency. We get it. The programs are in place, and we’re building upon them.”
The equity work is intentional and sustainable, said Board President Candance Chow. “It is not meant to be a flash in the pan. … We have initiatives that are working now that are expanding aggressively. … It will take time to look at policies and practices across many schools, while also it is also true that there are some things we can expedite.”
The equity statement, which the Board plans to adopt at its August meeting, can remain fluid over the year. As Corrie Wallace conducts the equity audit, the Equity Leadership team continues to meet and the work already in place continues, said Dr. Goren.
“The statement, as I see it, really serves as a guidepost on the strategic plan and the District’s equity work as a whole,” Dr. Goren said.
District 65 recognizes that excellence requires a commitment to equity and to identifying and addressing practices, policies, and institutional barriers, including institutional racism, that perpetuate opportunity and achievement gaps. The district must work proactively to acknowledge racial and cultural biases, and eliminate institutional structures and practices that affect student learning and achievement. District 65 commits to:
• Raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the racial predictability of achievement.
• Raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the predictability of academic achievement based upon family income, disabilities, gender identity, and status as an English language learner.
• Ensuring that all staff examine and change educational practices, policies, and processes that contribute to and perpetuate racial disparities, and the disparities of those who have been marginalized in society by their identity, cultural, or economic status.
• Honoring and building upon the strengths and assets of every student.
• Providing all students with resources, opportunities, and supports needed to ensure preparation for success in high school and beyond.
• Attracting and retaining a workforce that is diverse in skills and experience and reflects the demographic diversity of our students.
• Implementing culturally relevant teaching practices that reflect the contributions and perspectives of all people.
• Ensuring that all staff members receive training that promotes an understanding of racial identity and cultural competencies, and identifies and addresses implicit and explicit biases.
• Welcoming and engaging families as essential partners in their students’ education, school planning, and district decision making.
• Involving community members including parents and families, civic and faith-based leadership, and the community at large, as active collaborators and problem-solvers on acknowledging and addressing racial and educational equity.