Second Equity Series event draws 900 viewers

The Kansas Equity Series on race and equity sponsored by KASB, USA-Kansas and Topeka USD 501 continued Tuesday morning with a focus on how school boards, districts and their communities must intentionally commit to equity training and awareness.

Almost 900 people viewed Tuesday’s conversation, which was live streamed on KASB’s Facebook page and is archived there. Participants included Wichita USD 259 Superintendent Dr. Alicia Thompson, Caney Valley USD 436 Superintendent Blake Vargas; Kansas African American Affairs Commission Board Member and Topeka USD 501 Director of Certified Personnel and Equity Dr. Beryl New; Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 Board Member Jurdene Coleman; and Emporia USD 253 Board of Education President Art Gutierrez. USA-Kansas Executive Director G.A. Buie and former KASB President and former Topeka USD 501 Board Member Patrick Woods moderated the event.

Woods kicked off the conversation by noting that Kansas’ workforce will be deeply impacted by the diverse pool of high school graduates emerging from the state’s public schools over the next several years. White graduates will decrease from 75 percent of Kansas public school graduates to 68 percent; meanwhile, Non-White graduates will increase from 25 percent to 32 percent of the cohort.

Non-White graduates in Kansas will increase by around 2,900 from 2012-2032; Hispanic high school graduates will increase from about 4,00 to 7,200; Asian/Pacific Islander student numbers are projected to increase from about 1,000 in 2012 to 1,300; and Black student high school graduate numbers are expected to decrease slightly from about 2,200 to about 2,100 students.

Thompson advised boards that want to work on equity to start by looking at their student data. “Your data starts to paint a picture for people of why it’s important to begin to look into issues that need to be addressed. Use the data to determine your ‘Why.’”

Vargas said that while his district is not very diverse, the society into which its students will graduate is, and educators must prepare students for that world. Furthermore, the increasingly diverse world has an impact on less-diverse communities: “You either need to plan for it now, or be prepared to deal with consequences when a situation arises which you aren’t prepared for,” Vargas said.

Gutierrez said his school district has a large Hispanic population and has been informally working on equity for several years in response to its increasing diversity. He said school boards must formalize equity efforts and must view all actions through an equity lens. Vargas agreed: “Equity work has to start with the Board, and they must be trained. There’s no easy solution and it’s hard work. You’re laying a foundation for the future and you won’t see results right away and you have to be okay with that.”

New said an individual or a board may think they have a commitment to and comfort with equity, but then they encounter an issue they need to address personally or within the district. “It’s a process; be patient with yourself and others,” she advised.

The leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on existing racial inequities in American society, with people of color and those in poverty the most affected by the pandemic. The health impacts in turn will affect many students’ ability to learn when school resumes in the fall. They agreed that despite the dual challenges of ensuring equity and responding to the pandemic, schools must tackle both head-on.

“If you have a broken arm and a broken leg, you’re going to want the doctor to fix both,” Manhattan-Ogden’s Coleman said. “We have the capacity to keep both of those conversations going.”

The conversation concluded with observations on the challenges of supporting students who will be returning to school challenged not only by the COVID pandemic but also by a turbulent summer of social upheaval. Coleman said adults need to be practicing self-care now to be prepared to greet students who “will be bringing a lot of extra baggage.”

“Talk to staff, too;” Thompson said. “They’re under stress, too.”

“Being a good listener and a good human is the most important thing we educators can do for students,” USA-Kansas’ Buie said.

The third session in the Equity Series will be on July 21.

More than 500 people viewed the first installment of the series on June 23. That session featured USD 501 Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson; former KASB president and current Seaman USD 345 Board member and NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Frank Henderson; Dr. Reginald Eggleston, superintendent of Geary County USD 475; Lawrence USD 497 Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis and Kansas City Kansas USD 500 Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust. The resources from that wide-ranging conversation are posted here.

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