Developing Data-Driven Equity Practices and Partnerships

By Robert Low

Leading for Equity: The Petersburg City Public Schools’ Story – Using Practices and Partnerships to Move the Equity Agenda edWebinar recording link

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Using data to determine the needs of economically disadvantaged students and make good decisions about them has helped one school district provide more equitable outcomes, meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and increase opportunities for high school graduates to succeed in college and their careers.

Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, Superintendent of the Petersburg City Public Schools in Virginia, explained during a recent edWebinar, hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network, how her district has been using data from a variety of sources to guide their decision making. She emphasized that in addition to focusing on the data, asking critical questions about the data was also an essential part of the decision-making process.

Considering Data on the Whole Child

The data-driven approach in the Petersburg City Public Schools includes looking at health and socioeconomic data, not just academics. This is crucial in a district where 75% of the students are considered economically disadvantaged, and external factors may impact students’ academic performance. Dr. Pitre-Martin also noted 90% of the district’s students are Black, 6% are Hispanic, and 3% are White, with the percentage of English language learners currently at 5% and growing.

Dr. Pitre-Martin and her staff review health reports on their area to identify factors that may affect students’ ability to be competitive and reach their potential, and the administrators stay “keenly aware of adverse childhood experiences that could impact students’ ability to perform.” Recent data showed 23% of the students live in households that have difficulty covering basic expenses, 22% have experienced divorce or separation, and 8% have had an incarcerated parent.

This data helps to determine what interventions may be needed, with the district using a Multi-Tiered System of Support. There are clear levels of support for academic, attendance, and discipline issues, provided by counselors, school psychologists, and behavioral specialists, and at the Tier 3 level the supports include small-group or individualized sessions.

In addition, there is a K-12 social-emotional learning curriculum for all students, which is considered as important as any other component of the curriculum. The entire teaching and learning continuum is fully documented in curriculum and pacing guides that serve as a “one-stop shop for all things instructional,” including performance tasks, cross-curricular ideas, gifted/enrichment activities, and ESOL and special education strategies.

Using Data to Respond to the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived eight months after Dr. Pitre-Martin’s arrival as the new superintendent of the Petersburg City Public Schools, and as planning for the 2020-21 school year began, a review of the health data showed that Petersburg had the highest number of COVID-related cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in its area. This led to a decision to launch the Petersburg Virtual Academy in time for the start of the new school year.

Preparations to ensure the virtual academy provided an equitable education for all students were based in part on data that revealed approximately 60% of student households only had cell phone access to the internet, rather than broadband access. To make sure students would have a secure platform for receiving high-quality instruction, the district distributed thousands of devices and hotspots to its students, and then used “heat maps” to track hotspot usage.

A 40-page document on the district website provided details on key aspects of the virtual academy, including schedules, attendance policies, programming, and a communication plan. Material pickups throughout the year were used to distribute textbooks and supplemental resources, including manipulatives, markers, and dry erase boards. As of the end of February 2021, plans were underway to provide on-site options for students during the spring.

Data-Driven College and Career Planning

To prepare students for college and employment after graduation, district administrators looked at data on jobs and careers that would be needed in their area. The goal was to identify to high-wage opportunities that would also require large numbers of new employees, and thereby enable graduates to go straight to work and be able to put themselves through college.

This led to a focus on the health care industry, and administrators began surveying students in middle school about their career interests. Students were then offered opportunities to earn college credits through dual enrollment programs or earn workplace readiness certificates and other credentials that would help them obtain jobs such as medical, laboratory, or emergency technicians.

As part of this work, the district has also partnered with local medical centers, community colleges, and foundations, as well as the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. And, the same approach is being used beyond the health care industry with occupations such as construction and logistics. In this way, students’ education can help the entire Petersburg community, which has faced significant economic challenges in recent years.

This edWeb broadcast was hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network, providing premier professional learning for educational leaders.

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About the Presenter

Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin was appointed Superintendent of Petersburg City Public Schools on July 1, 2019. With public education experience spanning three decades, she has served in leadership positions at the school, district and state levels and—before coming to Petersburg—served as Deputy State Superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Dr. Pitre-Martin served for three years as Superintendent of Thomasville City Schools, a North Carolina district with 2,500 students, 93% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. During her time in Thomasville, the school district was named to the College Board’s AP® District Honor Roll for increasing participation in Advanced Placement classes and improving student success on AP exams. During her tenure, Thomasville’s graduation rate increased 12% to an all-time high and the district saw double-digit gains in test scores.

Before Thomasville, Dr. Pitre-Martin was the state director of K-12 curriculum and instruction for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She has served as the chief academic officer for the School District of Philadelphia, which is one of the 10 largest school districts in the nation. She also served as an assistant superintendent for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in her home state of Louisiana.

Earlier positions included Director of Research and Staff Development for the Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas, and Principal of Oakwood Intermediate School in College Station, Texas. Dr. Pitre-Martin became one of the youngest principals to be named President of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals and was named the Texas Middle School Principal of the Year.

She began her career teaching English, drama and speech at Northside High School in Lafayette, Louisiana, where she also coached speech and debate teams.

Dr. Pitre-Martin earned her Ph.D. in educational administration from Texas A&M University. She earned her master’s degree in organizational communication and her bachelor’s degree in speech education from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. She is a graduate of the Broad Academy for educational leaders.

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.

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Leading for Equity is a free professional learning community on 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 to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars.