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Developing equity policies on opportunity gaps

School boards wanting to address learning gaps between student demographic groups don’t have to start from scratch. And board policy can plan an important part of reducing those gaps by providing the district with a “race equity lens” for bring about desired change.

Jennifer Godinez, associate executive director of the nonprofit Minnesota Education Equity Partnership (MEEP), gave Monday morning clinic participants at NSBA’s Annual Conference some insights into a four-year-old pilot project to increase equity while reducing practices that impede that goal. A trio of rural districts in the Mille Lacs region of northern Minnesota have partnered with the group.

“What we’re trying to do is a collective action plan with the school leaders and the students’ families to address disparities,” she said.

“Addressing race equity means those who are most affected by inequities have the space to build power and lead through collective action. That means getting leaders of color involved,” Godinez said. “We didn’t use ‘race equality’ to make the issue about ‘race.’ It is not just eliminating overt racism; it means building systems and structures that are just and inclusive.”

The MEEP initiative has five goals:

  • Districts that are culturally responsive.
  • School climates that foster student engagement to eliminate discipline gap.
  • A core of educators who reflect the demographics of their student populations.
  • Support for the native languages and cultures of all students.
  • Greater access for children of color to college

Before the partnership launched, participants studied equity programs in California’s Castro Valley Unified Schools and Oregon’s Portland Public Schools. One of the ideas they discovered was the construction and use of an “equity lens tool.”

“It’s very important that boards analyze their policies to see what groups are being affected, whether stakeholders have been involved, what may be some negative effects and what barriers must be overcome,” Godinez said. Use of that approach becomes the “equity lens tool” for identifying issues and solutions.

Some other elements of equity improvements Godinez highlighted include:

  • Boards knowing why they are placing a focus on the issue of equity.
  • Creating equity-centered professional development, curriculum, and instructional leadership support.
  • Establishing assessment tools to detect any board policies and/or district practices that perpetuate achievement gaps.
  • Developing board policies that enhance the diversity in purchasing and contract hiring.
  • Supporting work that increases the number of people of color in school leadership.

In May 2015, MEEP and the three districts in the pilot crafted a board member training institute on equity. Its focuses include curriculum, high-quality instruction and ensuring schools recognize students’ cultural heritage.

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