6 considerations before implementing an equity initiative in your district

By: | November 19, 2019

While there has been progress in advancing equity in education and supporting the needs of many students, there still remains tremendous potential to ensure that underprivileged and struggling students receive access to the specific and varied resources they need to graduate college-and career-ready.

It is certainly encouraging to see more and more districts implementing equity initiatives, but this shift is also stirring conversations about how to achieve the greatest impact, how to measure results and understanding the most effective strategies for accomplishing this work. In the past six years at Bellevue School District, we have created a multitude of initiatives aimed at closing stubborn achievement gaps and throughout the process, we’ve learned a few things along the way.

We recommend the following considerations prior to embarking on an equity initiative within your district:

  1. Clarify your purpose. What are you seeking to achieve and what barriers do you want to overcome? Those conversations prior to implementing an equity initiative will help to guide your equity mission and help ensure you achieve your goals and to help communicate these goals to administrators, teachers, students and community members so that everyone clearly understands the purpose and direction of what you are trying to accomplish.
  2. Listen. To truly do equity work well, it’s incredibly important to listen to not only administrators, teachers and students, but also to parents and community members. Creating an open forum and a two-way communication model to listen to one another’s perspectives, we have the potential to understand concerns, biases and where we can spend more time focusing our work.
  3. Identify key supporters. In this work, it’s paramount to have buy-in from organizational decision makers, and key stakeholders amongst your community, families, students and staff you serve. There is much more value in building a unified movement, inclusive of multiple perspectives, and you will want to include the voices of many, encourage administrators, education leaders and staff to become champions and stewards of the equity initiative.
  4. Keep students at the center. Our greatest aspiration with equity work is to positively impact all students, particularly historically underserved groups of students. It’s important to always keep this in mind when making decisions and staying focused on that goal can help to guide decisions and priorities on how to best serve this population of students.
  5. Know your blind spots and provide regular training. We all have some level of implicit bias, which is when our brain automatically processes negative stereotypes that have become embedded over time about particular groups of people. This can happen without us even being consciously aware of it when it’s occurring. That’s why it’s so important to talk about implicit bias, conduct regular trainings and professional development and continue to monitor the effectiveness of these trainings as a major component of an equity initiative.
  6. Methodical use of technology. Meeting the needs of diverse, underserved populations can be a challenge because it often means serving populations who are English language learners, below proficient readers or students with learning gaps.
    One tool educators can use to provide balance and access at scale is digital curriculum; however, a technology that personalizes instruction can’t single-handedly create equity. It must be combined with a well-designed and supportive learning environment in which staff are culturally competent and understand how to address the unique needs of each student. This includes proper implementation and planning of the technology, effectively addressing the existing culture to enhance learning opportunities and being strategic in the selection of a rigorous digital curriculum provider.

Although we have a long way to go, I am encouraged by the growing number of districts that are choosing to focus on equity and the national tenor of increasing interest and commitment to better supporting the needs of the country’s most underprivileged students.

Shomari Jones is the Director of Equity and Graduation Support at Bellevue School District. In his role, he is charged with engaging district staff in thoughtful exploration of institutionalized racism and its impact on student learning. Reach out to Shomari at joness@bsd405.org.