Asking the Right Questions About Your Equity Agenda
By Stacey Pusey
Equity is one of the most overused terms in education—not just because most can’t agree on a definition, but because the promise of equity is often not backed up by action. In the edWebinar, “Leading for Equity: Intentionality for Access and Opportunity,” hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network, Dr. Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent of Edmonds School District (WA), and Dr. Heath Morrison, Superintendent of Montgomery Independent School District (TX), discussed how they’ve approached building equity throughout their careers and why acting upon an equity agenda is an urgent, right-now need.
Analyzing the current inaction regarding equity, Dr. Balderas and Dr. Morrison explored four aspects of developing an equity plan and the questions education leaders should ask to make sure they achieve the goal of giving all children the education they deserve.
- Vision: Everyone in the district—from the central office to bus drivers—must strive for the same goal for the equity agenda. But as much as leaders talk about the goal, they need to ask if all of their employees understand why they focus on equity. Do they understand the history of inequity in the district and how it affects students? Do they understand the district’s pathways for reaching its goals?
- Leadership and Governance: Equity must be a mandate at every level, but if the board doesn’t embrace it, then their policies won’t reflect the needs of the district. Do they have a strong sense of responsibility to the equity agenda? Are they asking questions themselves about achieving equity and focusing on moving forward? In addition, are the equity goals reflected in staffing at every level—do the administrators, staff, and educators look like their students? If equity isn’t the vision for employees, then it won’t become part of the culture for the students.
- Decision Making/Accountability: First, is equity part of the budget—are there funds devoted to initiatives to help students and families, and how are the funds being used? Second, look at what data the school is tracking. The school needs to break down the student information in as many ways as possible to see how they can better serve them. Also, they should ask what they are doing well now, how they can improve on that, and what they can focus on next. Equity can’t be solved all at once for all kids, but tracking progress is essential.
- Professional Development: Equity training is important, but it’s also key to make sure the right messages get across to each group. A tenured teacher who’s been at the school for years will have different needs than a new staff member. How is the school helping them all understand their ongoing role in enacting the equity agenda?
While equity agendas are not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the ugly truths to all. Even so, said Dr. Morrison, there’s still a perception that pursuing an equity agenda means taking away resources from some students to boost others. Communicating not just the agenda, but also the benefits of it for all students, and how it will benefit the community, is key. Ultimately, community members will believe district leaders when those words are put into action.
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. Gustavo Balderas
Dr. Gustavo Balderas began his life as the child of migrant farm workers in Eastern Oregon and developed his love of learning and passion for education in Oregon Public Schools, from kindergarten through his doctoral degree in educational leadership at the University of Oregon
Dr. Balderas has been an educator for 30 years. He started his career in education as a high school teacher and counselor in the Hillsboro School District after teaching briefly in Texas. He moved on to elementary and middle school administrative roles and then served as an area director overseeing a cluster of K-12 schools and coordinating district curriculum, as well as serving as an assistant superintendent of support services, also all in the Hillsboro School District. He served as superintendent in California and Oregon prior to beginning his tenure.
His career highlights include improving equity and culture proficiency in the state’s K-12 instruction through the Oregon Leadership Network and the Oregon State Action for Educational Leadership Project, and developing equal access and opportunity to instruction and equity systems around student behavior and hiring practices in the districts where he has worked. Dr. Balderas was appointed to serve on the Oregon State Board of Education in 2018.
Being engaged with the community is important to Dr. Balderas, and he has served on several local and state educational and civic boards to develop and grow community partnerships. In addition to serving on the Oregon State Board of Education, he was a board member of the Oregon Department of Education English Learner Advisory Group, Connected Lane County and Early Learning Alliance. Dr. Balderas is also a volunteer consulting superintendent for the Educational Research and Development Institute and the Suburban School Superintendents national organizations. He is a founding member and past president of the Oregon Association of Latino Administrators. He currently serves as NW regional representatives and treasurer for the national Association of Latino Administrators Superintendents.
Dr. Balderas was named the Oregon Distinguished Latinx Educator of the Year, The Oregon Superintendent of the Year, and the AASA National Superintendent of the Year.
Dr. Heath Morrison
At each stage of his career, Dr. Heath Morrison has been described as a teacher on special assignment. Dr. Morrison began as a social studies teacher in Virginia and Maryland and quickly moved into administration. After serving as principal at the middle school and high school levels, Dr. Morrison was selected as Maryland Principal of the Year in 2004.
He went on to serve as a Community Superintendent in Montgomery County, Maryland, before being selected to serve as Superintendent of Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada. He has most recently served as Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2011, Dr. Morrison was named Nevada Superintendent of the Year, and in 2012, he became AASA’s National Superintendent of the Year.
Under his leadership, all school districts saw rapid gains in state test scores, graduation rates, and participation and performance in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. He has led efforts to promote personalized plans of instruction for every student and utilize technologies to inspire innovative teaching and learning. At the local, state and national level, he has actively championed the importance of teachers and principals.
For the last several years, Dr. Morrison has served in the private sector, first as the Senior Vice-President of Government Affairs at McGraw- Hill Education, before his promotion to President of the School Group. In July of this year, he was selected as the superintendent of Montgomery ISD in Texas. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Planning and a Masters in Educational Administration from the University of Maryland. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary. Dr. Morrison is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and serves on the College of William and Mary Development Board.
Family is foremost to Dr. Morrison. He married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and they have two children, Samantha and Zachary, and a foster daughter, NaShara.
About the Host
Dr. Valerie Truesdale joined AASA early in 2019 as the assistant executive director responsible for guiding leadership development services and programs. With years of experience in the superintendency and roles in instructional technology, she knows that AASA’s Leadership Network can be a substantial resource for school leaders trying to keep pace with the rapidly changing delivery of K-12 education.
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.
Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with edWeb.net as a marketing communications advisor and writer.