The Magna Awards have been recognizing school board and school district excellence for more than 20 years. This is the second year that the Magna Awards have focused on equity or, more specifically, removing barriers for underserved students-—children of color; children with disabilities; children from impoverished families; children with mental health issues; children who are gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.
What I’ve been started to realize is how hard this work is. I traveled out to Chesterfield, Missouri, this summer to report a story on the Parkway School’s equity program. I observed a group of teachers at an elementary school go through implicit bias training.
At the end of the second day, everyone was exhausted—the teachers, their principal, and the trainers. The trainers were tired from making themselves vulnerable and for trying in a nonjudgmental but firm way to explain how implicit bias works. For teachers, confronting their own biases was upsetting and draining. To realize that they may have been treating students differently, or had different expectations for students, is not something educators want to face. But for change to happen, they must face it. Not just once, but continuously.
Each time a district starts a program that looks to help underserved children, it is going against the status quo. It may be hard to convince the community that resources need to go to a small group of children. It may be hard to convince staff that it must work and think differently.
Maybe everyone believes the school or district is doing just fine, until they look at the data. Then they might see, as Winchester Public Schools did, that a group of children were not working to their potential. They might find, as Des Moines Public Schools did, that black males were struggling. Or an incident in their school district might make them realize that changes needed to be made, as the Coatesville School District did.
In these districts, which we are honoring with top Magna Awards, the adults started doing difficult work. They reached out to the community for help. They went inward, too, to train teachers and make systemic changes. And their work is ongoing, because successful equity programs need constant care, reflection, and action.
Our three Grand Prize winners, and the 15 first place winners, are courageous in their recognition and their actions to row against the tide of complacency. I hope that you will get ideas and inspiration from their stories.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Until next issue. . .