You said you’re about equity, but are you really?

Upon my appointment as a school superintendent, more than three-years ago, my family and I relocated from Colorado. Last week, however, I marked my one-year anniversary as the Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Innovation. Although I am not serving in the position that marked my move to Illinois, my steadfast belief in serving and advocating for children and adults who continue to be marginalized is stronger than ever. Perhaps one day I will shed more insight into the decision to leave that post. Regardless of the reason for my professional career move, however, I am reminded constantly that growth is not linear. I hope those of you contemplating similar career moves hear me loud and clear…growth is not linear. #FocusForward

Consequently, I must admit that although I started this new position in the midst of a global pandemic, nothing moved at a snail’s pace. As a matter of fact, I had to hit the ground running not because there were glaring inequities for me to “fix”, but the learning curve was steep. From learning the nuances of a new district to ensuring my work was value added, I  tried to remain tempered in my approach as the newest member of the team. Peeling back the layers of any organization to reveal the under belly is never pleasant. 

Not sure what led folks to reach out to me, but since my time in this new role, I have been asked to participate on more panels focusing on equity than I can count; some offers I accepted and others I respectfully declined. Due to the number of newly appointed school and district level leaders, the purpose of today’s blog is to share my learnings around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Some of my learnings are a result of personal experiences and others from readings and connecting with other DEI folx in the field. Therefore, school and district leaders, it is my hope that you will consider reading my latest blog to gain insights as you begin or revisit the equity work in your school/district. 

Not listed in any order of importance, here are a few considerations:

Strongly EncouragedRationale
The appointment must be a cabinet level positionWhen confronting issues specific to race and equity, it is important that leaders get close to the work. Consequently, when the “equity appointed” person is situated off to the side in another department, leaders tend to forget the intent. It is imperative that your DEI person sit on Cabinet to remove the invisible layers that inadvertently surface between the Superintendent, other senior level leaders, and the work. The proximate level of work allows for increased dialogue, root cause analysis, and long-term problem solving.
Create a direct line to the SuperintendentWhen the appointed person reports directly to the Superintendent, it communicates that the appointment is not perfunctory and hopefully, the superintendent is committed to hearing and learning first-hand the strengths and opportunities to correct inequities first-hand. 
Avoid *Spray and Pray Equity Professional development sessions that are often provided once will never change deeply entrenched practices and mindsets. Instead, everyone in the organization must spend a considerable amount of time analyzing data, while centering student voice. Student voice will either confirm what the data is telling you or send you down another path that will require second-order change and possibly a change of venue for some adults. Be prepared for both.
Allocate a robust budgetWhether the work includes his/her/their professional learning or to provide resources and support for ongoing equity work, an appointed equity leader should never have to go elsewhere to request monies to do the work. Additionally, a robust budget is one of many ways a district leader can communicate the seriousness to the work. 
Refrain from *siloing equity“Siloing equity leads us to believe that equity is separate from instruction, which is separate from culture, which is separate from every other aspect of student experience and learning” (p.34). The equity officer will and should touch every facet of an organization, including curriculum and instruction, human resources, and special education just to name a few.
Refrain from *tokenizing equityRefrain from appointing a leader of Color and then leaving that person to be the lone ranger of doing the work. This is even more important in schools and districts that are predominately White. Rather, make sure everyone knows that the work of equity is on the shoulders of every single individual within the organization.

This aforementioned list is not all inclusive, but is a start. I would also suggest that every reader engage in introspection, reflect on your biases and privilege. How have you contributed to unjust practices, intentional or not? Now, what will you do to steer the ship toward justice? These questions are but two that require personal analysis, but might also serve as talking chips within your leadership team. As I shared several tweets ago-you talked about equity in your interview; you even indicated in some fashion that you were committed to equity. Now is the time to put those words to action. No more idleness, standing on the sidelines while Black and Brown folks take the brunt of criticism and endure racial battle fatigue. Hold onto the pole and if you do not know what that means…start here.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Audre Lorde’s book, Your Silence Will Not Protect You, with the hope that the possibility of fear lodged in your throat does not paralyze you to action.

“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger…if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside” (p.3).

Reference

Safir, S. & Dugan, J. (2021). Street Data-A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin and Learning Forward.

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