Kansas Equity Series speakers say time is ripe for change

Kansas education leaders Tuesday said the current national conversation about race and equality provides an opportunity for public schools to increase efforts to ensure that minority children have the same access to a quality education as white students. 

“The future of this country depends on what happens in our schools,” Dr. Anthony Lewis, superintendent of Lawrence USD 497, said during the first installment of the Kansas Equity Series: A Dialogue on Race and Equality. 

Lewis was joined by Dr. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka USD 501; Dr. Reginald Eggleston, superintendent of Geary County USD 475; Dr. Charles Foust, superintendent of Kansas City schools and Frank Henderson, board member Seaman USD 345, former president of KASB and NSBA Secretary-Treasurer. The free event was facilitated by Patrick Woods, former president of the Topeka school board and former KASB president, and G.A. Buie, executive director of USA-Kansas.  

Here is a link to the wide-ranging, hour-long conversation that was seen live by hundreds of people across the state and sponsored by Topeka USD 501, USA-Kansas and KASB. The next dialogue in the series has been scheduled for July 7 and will feature Dr. Alicia Thompson, superintendent of Wichita USD 259, and Blake Vargas, superintendent of Caney Valley USD 436. 

On Tuesday, the educators said that the recent demonstrations against institutional racism in policing and education have awakened many people in the United States.  

“Now, it’s like the blinders are off,” said Faust. “The nation knows there are inequities.” Faust said educators must focus on data to determine problems and then align programs and professional development to address those problems. He added schools must also ensure there are no financial barriers for students who want to take high level courses in high school. 

Anderson said it is important to have schools with teachers and administrators “that reflects the diversity that we have.” She urged educators to make sure their curriculum include up-to-date African-American history. She also said sometimes the traditional ways of doing things must be changed. For example, many parents can’t make teacher-parent nights. She said Topeka schools do home visits virtually and added, “We have parent conferences at the ballgame, the grocery store.” 

Henderson said school boards should “embed” equity in all aspects of education, focusing on resources, curriculum, hiring effective educators and ensuring a supportive school climate. “There are so many challenges that so many students bring into the classroom and we need to be mindful of those,” he said. 

Eggleston encouraged educators to instill high expectations for students and communicate those expectations to the students and parents. He said it shouldn’t be perceived as a problem if a student is not prepared to advance to the next grade. “It’s OK to go backwards in order to go forward,” he said. 

Lewis said sometimes curriculum and resources don’t fit certain student populations. He told of the time when he was an educator in Alabama, that a writing prompt on a test was about visiting the beach. He said nearly all his students had never been to the beach, so he changed the prompt to writing about a visit to a relative’s house. 

All the educators said schools need to work hard at changing practices, noting studies that show students of color are much more likely to be disciplined than white students for the same behaviors. 

At the conclusion, facilitator Woods said the comments reflected a “clarion call to do something different than what has always been done.” 

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