Achieving Equity Through Systems, Strategies, and Educational Justice
By Robert Low
In a diverse school district with more than 20 schools and 23,000 students, providing an equitable opportunity for every student to learn and grow is not an easy task.
The plan and process used to generate positive results in the Northshore School District (WA) were discussed during a recent edWebinar, hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network. The presentation featured Dr. Michelle Reid, Superintendent of the Northshore School District and 2021 AASA National Superintendent of the Year; Ayva Thomas, Assistant Director of Racial and Educational Justice for the district; Dr. Srinivas Khedam, Assistant Principal and Asian Indian Coordinator in the district; and Cathi Davis, Principal of the district’s Ruby Bridges Elementary School.
Dr. Reid emphasized the importance of listening and grounding equity work in the voices of the students and other community members, and also making sure achieving educational and racial justice is a process of removing barriers for all students, rather than taking something from one group and giving it to another.
Systems, Strategies, and an Equity Framework
Located in the suburbs north of Seattle, and close to the headquarters of high-tech companies such as Microsoft and Amazon, the Northshore School District’s students are 60% White, 17% Asian, and 13% Hispanic, with another 9% identifying as mixed race. More than 94 languages are spoken in homes throughout the district.
To achieve the district’s objectives of equity, excellence, and community, the process explained by Dr. Reid starts with consideration and discussion of the “why” and then moves on to the “how” and “what.” Three key elements then used for proceeding with equity work are systems leadership, strategic planning, and an equity framework.
Systems leadership includes building relationships and trust and then cultivating a system-wide shared vision with space for learning opportunities for the educators as well as the students. As the work progresses, there is an understanding that what is done won’t always be perfect, and perfect can be the enemy of progress, so the priority is to “lean in” and provide support for each child.
Key components of the strategic planning process include listening to the students, staff, and community members, and then making time to reflect on what has been heard, as well as what has been observed during classroom visits. Then, there is a focus on making commitments, rather than constantly being drawn to the latest topics or trends, and measuring progress toward clear goals, with accountability being another important part of the process.
An equity framework, inventory, and handbook have been created to streamline and provide supports for culturally responsive systems change. As explained by Thomas, who led the development of the framework and its inventory of resources, the framework is organized into four domains, starting with governance and then covering climate and culture, teaching and learning, and family and community engagement.
To proceed from theorizing to action, within each domain there is a focus on what was originally established, what exists now, and what needs to change. The domains are intended to work fluidly with each other, and self-reflection is an important part of each domain.
Equity Work in Each Domain
In the governance domain, the district has established diversity and equity policy committees that include students and community members as well as educators and administrators, in order to create effective policies that are then subject to annual review. Outcomes have included greatly increased algebra readiness, revised discipline policies based on a PBIS/MTSS model, and the elimination of barriers to participation in high-capability and music education programs.
In regard to climate and culture, there has been a focus on making the types of changes that need to occur within school and classroom settings, which has resulted in more use of culturally responsive practices. This has been combined with new approaches to professional development and work with the human resources department that shifted hiring practices and increased the racial diversity of the staff. Another innovation has been the creation of a retention program in which staff members who are members of minority groups can gather, network, and talk authentically.
Within the teaching and learning domain, educators have developed action plans focused on closing opportunity gaps through the implementation of strategies that are grounded in high-level practices and aligned across schools, but which can also be responsive to individual teachers and students. Examples include the addition of a new Chinese language program, the opening of a new International Baccalaureate school, and the creation of an Innovation Lab high school.
To improve family and community engagement, there has been an effort to shift power and give more voice to family and community members. Results have included more support for immigrant families who are transitioning to U.S. systems and more support for their holding on to their home languages. During the pandemic, there has also been an effort to provide more mental health education and suicide prevention support to specific populations facing challenges.
As planning proceeds for the start of the next school year, Dr. Reid is focused on making sure the district will be opening schools of the future rather than just reopening schools of the past, and ensuring the schools will provide an educationally and racially just experience for each student.
This edWeb broadcast was hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network, providing premier professional learning for educational leaders.
About the Presenters
Dr. Michelle Reid
Dr. Michelle Reid is now serving in her 40th year in K-12 education. She was named Superintendent of the Northshore School District in June 2016 and is former Superintendent of the South Kitsap School District. Prior to that, she served as Deputy Superintendent, District Athletic Director and high school Principal in the Port Angeles School District. She has also served as a leadership facilitator at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership and the Harvard Institute for School Leadership.
Dr. Reid received her doctorate in educational leadership and her master’s in educational administration from the University of Washington. She received her bachelor’s degree in natural science/chemistry from the University of Puget Sound. In November 2020, Dr. Reid was named 2021 Washington State Superintendent of the Year by the Washington Association of School Administrators. In February, she was named 2021 National Superintendent of the Year by AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
In Dr. Reid’s five years of leadership in Northshore, the district has developed a more equitable screening process for the Highly Capable Program, consistently improved graduation rates, launched the process for an ethnic studies curriculum, formalized a department that focuses on racial and educational justice, increased community voice through a student board, strengthened partnerships, held regular meetings with diverse communities and expanded access to advisory committees and task forces.
Ayva Thomas is the Assistant Director of the Racial and Educational Justice Department for the Northshore School District. As a representative of the Racial and Educational Justice Department, she and her team believe it is important for Northshore to shift and rethink power, diminish institutional barriers, build collaborative partnerships and solidarities, foster justice-driven adaptive change, and shift leadership and pedagogical lenses through scholar-practitioner frameworks. Through her work, Ayva grounds her praxis at the intersections of Black feminist thought, cultural studies, critical pedagogy, and educational leadership and policy.
Ayva holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in community psychology and Master of Arts degree in cultural studies from the University of Washington Bothell. She also obtained her Program Administrative Certification from the Danforth Educational Leadership Program at the University of Washington, Seattle. Through the graduate research she completed in her cultural studies program, Ayva theorized and examined the need to cultivate affinity-based spaces in school through Black girlhood studies as an approach to emancipatory love and education for and with Black girls.
Dr. Srinivas Khedam
Dr. Srinivas Khedam is an assistant principal and Asian Indian coordinator in the Northshore School District. He has been serving the Northshore School District community for the past four years. Prior to his current position, he was a teacher and administrator in South Seattle Catholic schools for 14 years. Before moving to the United States, he taught in New Zealand for seven years and for six years in India.
As a life-long learner, Dr. Khedam pursues academic and spiritual learning every day. He believes that young people have tremendous potential and educators can help them to become valuable and contributing members of society even during their K-12 education. For this reason, he works with community leaders to support and mentor youth, especially in academic, social, spiritual, and mental health areas.
Dr. Khedam is passionate about equity and social justice work. It is his passion that encouraged him to become the leader of a non-profit organization that serves the local and international community, mainly India, in education, health, and environment. He strongly believes that with hard work and dedication we can eliminate the inequities in schools and communities. He feels privileged to work for Northshore School District because he is able to do equity and social justice work under Dr. Reid’s leadership.
Cathi Davis is the principal of Ruby Bridges Elementary located in Woodinville, WA in the Northshore School District. This elementary school is a Washington State demonstration site for inclusive practices in partnership with the University of Washington Haring Center. The school opened officially during the 2020-2021 school year and serves approximately 500 students in a fully inclusive setting.
Cathi has served as an elementary principal for nine years. Prior to her selection as the founding principal of Ruby Bridges Elementary, she led Kokanee Elementary School, one of just a dozen schools recognized as inclusive practices demonstration sites in the state of Washington. As an experienced educator with close to 20 years of practice teaching and leading in the K-8 setting, Cathi has a breadth of experience specific to reading intervention, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, racial and educational justice and inclusive education. She has worked in classroom, interventionist, instructional coaching and administrator roles in a variety of school settings and with a diverse demographic of students and families.
Cathi has earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (2001), a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy with a focus on social and cultural foundations of education (2006) and a K-12 Principal credential from the University of Washington’s Danforth Educational Leadership Program (2008). She will complete her Superintendent’s credential in May 2021 and is currently earning her doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on the intersection of building and systems leadership with inclusive education practices.
About the Moderator
Dr. Daniel A. Domenech has served as Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association since July 2008. Dr. Domenech has more than 36 years of experience in public education, 27 of those years served as a school superintendent.
Prior to joining AASA, Dr. Domenech served as Senior Vice President for National Urban Markets with McGraw-Hill Education. In this role, he was responsible for building strong relationships with large school districts nationwide.
Prior to his position at McGraw-Hill, Dr. Domenech served for seven years as Superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), the 12th largest school system in the nation with 168,000 students.
Dr. Domenech, an AASA member since 1979, served as President of AASA from July 1998 to June 1999. He is also a past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the Suffolk County Superintendents Association, and the Suffolk County Organization for Promotion of Education. He was the first president and co-founder of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education.
In addition, Dr. Domenech has served on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment Governing Board, the advisory board for the Department of Defense schools, the board of directors of the Association for the Advancement of International Education, the Board of Overseers for the Baldrige Award and the boards of the Institute for Educational Leadership, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Sea Research Foundation, and Education Policy Institute. Currently, he serves on the boards of the Learning First Alliance, National Student Clearinghouse, Center for Naval Analyses, Horace Mann Educators Corporation, ACT, and USAC, and as Board Chair for Communities in Schools of Virginia.
Join the Community
Leading for Equity is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school and district leaders who face many challenges leading schools and driving school improvement for all students, especially now with COVID-19.
The AASA Leadership Network drives superintendent success, innovation, and growth, shaping the future of public education while preparing students for what’s next. We are the largest, most diverse network of superintendents in America. Passionate and committed, we connect educational leaders to the professional learning, leadership development, relationships, and partnerships they need to ensure a long career of impact.
Robert Low has more than 30 years of educational publishing experience, ranging from editing and product management to online advertising and content development. He also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars.