Equity must be embedded in schools

By Leah Fliter, lfliter@kasb.org

Kansas school board members joined 500 leaders from across the nation at the fourth annual NSBA Equity Symposium on January 26 in Washington, DC.

President-Elect Shannon Kimball (USD 497 Lawrence), was a first-time attendee. Past President/Legislative Committee Chair Dayna Miller (Basehor-Linwood USD 458), former President Rod Stewart (Washington County USD 108) and NSBA Western Region Vice President Frank Henderson (Seaman USD 345) have each attended three of the annual symposia.

“The face of our schools is changing,” NSBA CEO Tom Gentzel said in his opening remarks. “There’s much work to be done, but the one thing we can do is provide students a great public education.”

Keynoter Dr. Kandice Sumner of the Boston public school district reflected on how race, class and gender define students’ access to education and achievement.

“It’s given to you and it’s something we have no control over,” Sumner said and yet students of color continue to have limited access to higher-level courses, good teachers and appropriate funding. “Public education is not built for the current clientele it’s supposed to serve.”

“If you’re in this room it’s on you now” to have uncomfortable conversations that will lead to a more equitable future, she said.
The symposium addressed broad issues around educational equity, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); trauma-informed schools; the over-representation of students of color in special education; recognizing unconscious and implicit bias; supporting LGBTQ students; and how school boards can design a local path to equity.

Lunch keynoter and DonorsChoose CEO Charles Best discussed how crowdfunding can help address education funding inequities and closing keynoter Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union discussed the unintended consequences of technology in schools, student data privacy concerns and guarding against bias.

“All the sessions highlighted for me that equity work is essential, but it is also difficult to sustain and requires constant attention,” Kimball said. “There was also a common thread in several of the presentations—across topics, speakers shared the vital importance of making a connection with students.

“Relationship building plays a key role in addressing equity for students of color, just as it does in addressing achievement for all students,” she said. “Dr. Sumner referred to this as going back to the ‘good old days’ of engaging parents and teachers in kids’ lives. We are focusing on this in my district, so I appreciated hearing from multiple speakers at the symposium that we are on the right track with this emphasis.’

NSBA Chief Equity Officer Verjeana Jacobs closed out the symposium with a challenge to the gathered school board members. “Equity is the intentional dedication of resources,” she said. “How do we leave from this place and make sure we change the lives of children?”

“Each year we are fortunate to have presenters who can challenge us and show and tell us about best practices that are being utilized in districts throughout the country,” Henderson said.

“In 2017, the NSBA Board of Directors, which I serve on, created a definition for equity and set a standard that equity would be embedded in all we do in terms of policies, resolutions, conferences, publications, etc. This action has propelled districts, through their state associations, to be more mindful of their own practices and make a concerted effort to ensure equitable conditions for all students in their district. Attending the Equity Symposium has provided a continual awareness for me in my role as a local, state and national school board leader.”

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