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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