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Equity in Education: Are we at the tipping point of an education transformation?

July 17, 2020 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
A group of people talking about equity

Providing a safe place for students to learn with the challenges of COVID-19, in addition to the recent civil unrest, has fueled an examination of equitable policies, curriculum, and considerations for how we can ensure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed. 

In our latest podcast, we had a chance to explore this issue with two highly respected equity leaders who share how they are pursuing real and lasting equitable transformation within their districts. Listen to the full episode: https://opportunitythrives.com/equity-in-education-are-we-at-the-tipping-point-of-an-education-transformation/.

Our first guest, Shomari Jones, the director of equity and strategic engagement, for the Bellevue School District in Bellevue, Washington, shared his vast insight and experience. Bellevue School District is a large, multicultural district on the outskirts of Seattle with a highly diverse student population. Shomari is charged with researching, analyzing, developing initiatives, and coordinating strategies to ensure each and every student has an opportunity to succeed at Bellevue School District. He was recently recognized as a Leader to Learn From by Education Week.

Diana Marshall, the director of equity and student achievement, for San Juan Unified School District in Carmichael, California, provided her passionate and unique perspective. San Juan Unified School District is a large, diverse district sprawling throughout 75-square miles in northern California. She oversees several projects and initiatives throughout her district to mentor specific populations of students, establish cultural proficiency training for employees, increase student voice and advocacy, and to create positive school climate for all students. She also leads the Equity Task Force and facilitates the Equity Community Collaborative.

This episode is chock-full of applicable strategies that education leaders can apply within their districts.  Below we share a list of several of the recommendations Diana and Shomari recommend for embracing equity transformation, and it’s worth listening to the full podcast to listen gain their full perspective.

1) Seize the opportunity.

Both Shomari and Diana agreed that there has never been a better time to engage stakeholders, staff, and communities in the effort to make real progress with equity solutions and break down systemic racism to advance initiatives that are inclusive of all students.

2) Empower families and youth.

Shomari stressed the importance of empowering and engaging family and youth. Within his district, this includes everything from supporting a student’s most basic needs to providing workshops, seminars and access to guide students throughout their educational journey. 

3) Contribute to policy transformation and investigate structural norms.

Shomari also shared how important it is to continuously evaluate policies that are in place and establish structural norms to determine if they are contributing to systemic racism or decreasing opportunities for specific populations. By establishing a practice to investigate policy through a critical lens, he said it can create the opportunity for transformation.

4) Evaluate your results.

When districts set forth an agenda, both Shomari and Diana emphasized how important it is to evaluate whether change is occurring and if these practices are effective. This includes taking a closer look at the district’s budget and if spending practices are aligned with policies set forth related to equity.   

5) Provide effective communication.

Ensure there is regular, effective and consistent communication about equity initiatives (and how they are progressing) to stakeholders, district leaders, educators and families.

6) Provide staff development and PD.

Equity training goes beyond traditional professional development training and merges into coaching. Diana shared that at San Juan Unified School District, they have implemented equity teams at the site level to help continue to make an impact.

7) Be a “rebel leader.”

Equity leaders are often charged with disrupting the status quo. Diana shared that if you are truly going be disruptive, it’s helpful to think of yourself, and other equity administrators, as “rebel leaders.” She believes that having courageous conversations, compassionate dialogue and continuing to learn and embrace her own cultural humility, she has been able to keep others on board with her to make real change.

8) Co-create (not collaborate).

Diana and Shomari shared that including and involving stakeholders from the beginning is vital to becoming facilitators of equitable change. Diana shared that we need to co-create – not collaborate -- to make lasting change.  

9) Get comfortable with your own discomfort.

Approach this work as a lifelong learning experience. There is no silver bullet to immediately get it right. Take classes, read and learn as much as possible. But most importantly, Diana continues to reinforce the message of getting comfortable with your own discomfort. Evaluate how you can have dialogue and conversations about race and racism among all stakeholders and be comfortable.

10) Just get started.

You don’t have to have an enormous body of equity work to get started. Shomari believes that starting with self-investigation and setting an intention will help to move us towards equity for all. Shomari and Diana both agreed that the equity title can be a difficult role – one that is not always well-loved. But they emphasized that by staying true to the goal and never giving up, you will make a difference and move us closer to achieving equity for all students.

Learn more about how Apex Learning is partnering with districts to provide equitable access to all students: https://www.apexlearning.com/webinars/expanding-opportunities-students-providing-equitable-access.

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