NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

Bringing racial equity into focus in our schools and beyond: A letter to education leaders

Editor’s Note: Our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute is pleased to wel­come our friend Erin Jones back to the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate to share a let­ter she has writ­ten to edu­ca­tion lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton State that pro­pos­es a set of exten­sive­ly dis­cussed, wor­thy ideas for imple­ment­ing racial equi­ty in class­rooms and beyond. Erin is a trust­ed leader on issues relat­ed to equi­ty and social jus­tice, fund­ing and gal­va­niz­ing com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and partners.

Erin has over twen­ty-five years of expe­ri­ence in edu­ca­tion, and vied with Chris Reyk­dal for the posi­tion of Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion in 2016. She now advis­es school dis­tricts to help them serve their stu­dents better.

Dear Edu­ca­tion Leaders:

For eighty-three week­days between March 6th and July 1st, 2020, I met on Zoom and Face­book Live with edu­ca­tors from across the State of Wash­ing­ton – para-edu­­ca­­tors, class­room teach­ers, col­lege access pro­gram lead­ers, agency staff and admin­is­tra­tors. These edu­ca­tors joined me ini­tial­ly for a free course in racial equi­ty. What began as instruc­tion devel­oped into a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­ti­tion­ers learn­ing togeth­er about how to imple­ment racial equi­ty at the staff lev­el, in class­rooms and for both fam­i­ly and community.

After all these days and dozens of hours of con­ver­sa­tions, we want­ed to share some of our most impor­tant learn­ing we’ve gleaned with you, hop­ing to point you in the direc­tion of racial jus­tice for your class­room, facil­i­ty, school dis­trict or orga­ni­za­tion, after one of the most dif­fi­cult sea­sons in our nation’s recent history.

Here are ten recommendations:

  1. Cen­ter the needs and voic­es of your most mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers (con­sid­er staff, stu­dents and fam­i­lies) as you make deci­sions about the future.
  2. Pri­or­i­tize rela­tion­ships before aca­d­e­m­ic stan­dards — staff — staff; staff — fam­i­ly; staff — student.
  3. Regard­ing racial equi­ty; prac­tice the three Hs: show humil­i­ty in your own process of learn­ing, human­ize those you serve and his­tori­cize the insti­tu­tion in which you work.
  4. BIPOC (Black, Indige­nous and Peo­ple of Col­or) stu­dents and staff need to know they are seen and heard — they must see them­selves in the cur­ricu­lum and prac­tices of the institution.
  5. Become the kind of per­son who is able to lead con­ver­sa­tions about race and equi­ty and be pre­pared for the back­lash that will inevitably come from some on staff and in community.
  6. Reimag­ine build­ing and class­room dis­ci­pli­nary prac­tices to elim­i­nate harm and address the bias­es that lead to dis-proportionality.
  7. At every oppor­tu­ni­ty, con­sid­er rep­re­sen­ta­tion in hir­ing prac­tices and in which com­­mu­ni­­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions are engaged in the work of sup­port­ing students.
  8. Pri­or­i­tize sup­port for social-emo­­tion­al learn­ing (with a racial jus­tice lens) and self-care up front as the new school year begins, not aca­d­e­m­ic learn­ing loss.
  9. Involve every­one in the build­ing in pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment, includ­ing sup­port staff.
  10. Lead­ers must be present on the ground [where their con­stituents are], start­ing Day One, to know what is hap­pen­ing in com­mu­ni­ties, class­rooms and cam­pus­es. Your phys­i­cal pres­ence sets the tone.

The Equi­ty Fish­bowl is plan­ning a vir­tu­al un-con­fer­­ence for the begin­ning of August to address the above top­ics. Infor­ma­tion will be post­ed on my Face­book page — Erin Jones LLC, or reach out through my Face­book page for details.

There were also be a vir­tu­al event — Back to School: An Equi­ty Cen­tered Con­ver­sa­tion with Par­ents, Providers, Teach­ers, Edu­ca­tors, and Stu­dents on July 21st from noon to 1:30 PM (please reg­is­ter in advance using this link).

Until that time, we encour­age you to spend the sum­mer prepar­ing for a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent return to a new school year.

Staff and stu­dents can­not afford to return to busi­ness as “usu­al”.

This is the first oppor­tu­ni­ty in the thir­ty years I have been in the Unit­ed States work­ing in edu­ca­tion for us to reimag­ine what school could and should look like, par­tic­u­lar­ly for staff and stu­dents who have not expe­ri­enced school as an empow­er­ing, affirm­ing, safe place. For now, take time to do your own work.

[And see Erin’s last post here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate about being a good ally.]

We are ready to run with you, along­side you. Please reach out for sup­port. This task is so great, none of us can take it on alone. Thank you!

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