Excellence, Equity and Unity: Brown v. Board Still Potent After All These Years

Six decades later, the Topeka, Kansas, public school district has a new attitude.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas , a landmark case. Sixty years ago the school system held a white student majority and resisted integration. Today, the district is 27 percent Hispanic/Latino, 20 percent African American and 42 percent white.

Under the leadership of the Topeka Board of Education and district Superintendent Julie Ford , school personnel and community members have engaged in “Courageous Conversations,” a program by author and speaker Glenn Singleton to guide communities in talking about the impact of race and ethnicity on decision making in public schools.

Brown struck down legalized racial segregation of public schools. L earning conditions were blatantly uneven, with black children getting short - changed in resources, transportation, facilities, and more.

What a difference time makes. The president of the Topeka board o f education is African American. The district is home to an Equity Council – a group whose charge is “...closing the racial achievement gap between students of color and other raci al groups ... and eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality... .” Equity teams reside in every building.

Below are observations from the National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel, CUBE Chair Van Henri White and Immediate Past Chair Minnie Forte-Brown, and Topeka’s Superintendent Julie Ford.

Thomas J. Gentzel Executive Director, National School Boards Association

“Brown holds special significance in public education – it is a unifying force, providing us with a common environment and common experiences as we create a system that is welcoming and works for everybody.”

“Strong school systems are absolutely critical to the growth and vitality of urban communities. So the investment not only benefits those particular students, but is also part of revitalizing communities.”

Van Henri White Chair, Council of Urban Boards of Education

“Brown represents unfinished business the U.S. has regarding equal access to a quality education and equal access to the blessings of diversity that are unique to America.”

“We have to be creative, relentless, and strategic in pursuit of equity.”

Minnie Forte - Brown Immediate Past Chair, Council of Urban Boards of Education

“We need to have policies in place that open those gates for children. Urban board members have to really be prepared as policymakers. We have to study hard and keep a watchful eye. We have to be unified in our purpose. ”

“We have to make sure our schools are excellent and that they are the best choice. That’s what the taxpayer paid for. It’s a right of every child to get an excellent education. We as policymakers have to make that happen.”

Julie Ford Superintendent, Topeka Public Schools

“In Topeka, the Brown decision takes on even more meaning now than it did in the past. In many ways it changed the district, and helps to shape our district today.”

“What Brown said is we have to have excellence for all our children. The idea is to embed equity principles into the strategic plan for learning.”

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