At its Aug. 29 meeting, the District 65 School Board adopted a “Racial and Educational Equity Statement.” Although equity was one of the guiding principles in developing the District’s strategic plan, there is no separate equity statement in the plan. The Board and administration decided to craft an equity statement after several members of the black community pressed for one earlier this year.
Superintendent Paul Goren said the statement, which the Board discussed and reviewed at previous meetings, “would help to drive the work and help to inform the external Equity Advisory Group. … I do want to stress that this is a statement. This is not a policy. I am asking for [the Board’s] support of the statement as a guidebook for equity work.”
The statement puts racial equity ahead of equity in family income, disabilities, gender identity, and status as an English-language learner. Board President Candance Chow said, “Some members of the community have contacted us saying that we are not concerned enough with special-needs students.”
Dr. Goren said bullet point number two (see sidebar) addresses students with disabilities. “We did not want to water down the racial aspect,” he said.
Corrie Wallace, whom the District engaged to perform an equity audit and make recommendations for improvements, presented her vision, strategy and measures of success through a program she developed: Cultivating Opportunities for Respectful Reflection on Identity through Education (C.O.R.R.I.E.).
The vision, Ms. Wallace said, is “a balanced educational ecosystem” with students at the center, surrounded by teachers, administrators and Board members, parents and the community. The adults, she said, would be “collaborating and committed to examining our policies, practices, and procedures through a racial-equity-impact lens in order to build a more equitable learning environment that constantly strives to eliminate the racial predictability of achievement.”
Assessment, analysis, and an action plan comprise the strategy, Ms. Wallace said. Its three key components are equity walks; professional development, training and awareness; and creation of an equity plan to address the findings.
The equity walks will “assess the District 65 learning environment in terms of practices, policies, procedures, curriculum, programs and community outreach through an equity lens,” Ms. Wallace said. She said she had met with many administrators, including 14 principals, and has scheduled equity walks for 10 sites.
Professional development and training included opportunities for staff and Board members to attend seminars and workshops. The equity plan would “focus on addressing the key themes from the equity walks” and be implemented over the next 10 years.
Critical success factors, Ms. Wallace said, include the following: active participation by administrators, teachers, parents, students and the community; a realization that there is “no ‘magic solution’ to address creating a more equitable learning environment” and an acknowledgement that “each component of the educational ecosystem is essential in supporting the whole child and each student’s unique needs”; increasing equity professional development opportunities; and “understanding and appreciation that this will be an interactive process based on the feedback, output, and data received.”
As a symbol of this undertaking, Ms. Wallace used “sankofa,” a word of the Twi language of Ghana that is translated “go back and get it,” referring to the need to learn from the past to shape the future.
Board members discussed the role equity might play in future meetings and discussions. Board members Suni Kartha, Claudia Garrison, Jennifer Phillips, and Board President Candance Chow attended the Racial Justice Institute conference, held in July by Race Forward, The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.
Ms. Chow said, “One of the things I took away was to ensure that equity is at the top of the agenda, one of the many commitments the Board will make to equity.”
“Race Forward was very inspiring for me,” said Ms. Kartha. There is a lot to be done, but I left feeling very energized that there are things we can start doing now.”
“It was a very inspiring day and a very challenging day,” said Ms. Garrison, adding, “We’ve gotten some tools.”
“Intentionality was what I took away from the conference. It was an excellent training,” said Ms. Phillips. “We can use equity at every meeting.”
Ms. Chow added she felt training on the difference between “impact” and “intention” was important. Intention is great, but impact is important. We need to have a sense of urgency. Just activities are not in and of themselves going to get us where we want to be.”
Ms. Chow told the RoundTable that not all Board members were able to attend the Race Forward conference, but added that some District 65 administrators and principals did attend, as did some community members. “We will look for additional opportunities for other Board members to participate,” she said.
During the public comment period, Sergio Hernandez Jr., Latino Engagement & Action Council Chairman, spoke about the gap in achievement between Latino and white students. He said, “Although there was some progress, we are concerned with the academic gap. We believe it is unacceptable. We believe as parents we have a responsibility to work with administrators. We will try to understand the reasons for the gap and look at ways to address it.” He would like a Board meeting to focus on Latino achievement.
John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said the administration is working on a report about Latino achievement, and the plan is to schedule a meeting on Latino achievement in October.
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 Board and staff members 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 Board and 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.