Seeing Every Student and Providing Equitable Access for Each One
How should equity work proceed in a school district where one student’s racist act and an inclusive school library program both have stirred up controversy and front-page headlines?
Ways to move the process forward, communicate effectively, and achieve meaningful improvements were discussed during a recent edWebinar, hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association and AASA’s Leadership Network. The presentation featured Dr. Jeannie Stone, Superintendent of the Richardson Independent School District (TX), Carrie Breedlove, Principal of J.J. Pearce High School (TX), Katrina Collins, Principal of Skyview Elementary School (TX), and Toni Jackson, a teacher at Dartmouth Elementary School (TX).
Dr. Stone emphasized the importance of explaining that equity work is not a zero-sum game in which one group’s gains are the result of another group’s losses. Instead, the goal is to make improvements for all students, as when her district improved access to algebra 1 classes, and participation by students of all ethnicities increased.
Leading and Responding at the District Level
Located in the Dallas area, the Richardson Independent School District (RISD) has a diverse student population of 39,000. Hispanics comprise 39% of the student population, 29% of the students are White, 22% are Black, and 7% are Asian. More than half of the students are classified as economically disadvantaged, while other students live in affluent neighborhoods. With such wide disparities, the district’s vision is focused on seeing every single student and considering where they come from, who they are, and most importantly, where they want to go.
Many of the district’s current equity policies and plans grew out of an incident in 2017, when a student at one district high school posted racist memes online in regard to a sports event with a different high school. The incident received widespread attention and news media coverage. While the district issued a statement condemning what had occurred, language used in the statement was seen by some members of the community as a refusal to acknowledge blatant racism.
Within a year, the district had established an equity council, appointed a director of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and made equity one of six elements in the district’s five-year strategic planning process. This process included listening to students, staff, and other community members, clearly defining key terms such as equity and inclusion, and identifying specific action items and deliverables.
In June of 2019, the RISD school board formally adopted an equity policy that district administrators had a responsibility to implement. This helped to confirm the importance of equity work, facilitate processes that were already underway, and enable the district to move forward with new steps to create a school culture in which all students could feel empowered and see themselves in the curriculum and other resources.
When a small number of LGBTQ books were added to school libraries as part of this process, more controversy and headlines resulted. This time, one of the district responses was to release a video in which Dr. Stone provided more context and detailed explanations of what was occurring and why. She also expressed the hope that viewers would feel encouraged to become part of the conversation about the district’s equity policies and procedures.
Taking Action in Schools and Classrooms
One of the steps the district took was to reconstitute four underachieving elementary schools, which had large percentages of students who were people of color and economically disadvantaged. Rather than change which students attended, the district changed its systems, which included increasing the pay for teachers at those schools.
Another step was adding an equity liaison on every campus, whom staff members can contact when questions arise, and who can preview lessons and proactively help with their preparation. Having a school-based liaison also makes it easier for the equity department to do its work by providing a single, ongoing point of contact. In addition, the liaisons can also help students feel seen and listened to, in part by asking questions that students weren’t being asked in the past.
The district’s gifted and talented program is another example of the changes being made to increase equitable access. The program administrators had formerly relied heavily on standardized testing to determine who would participate. After a switch to using multiple pathways to identify students who should participate, the number of students of color in gifted and talented programs doubled in two years.
Principal Katrina Collins pointed out these sorts of improvements enable educators to provide equitable access to appropriate curriculum materials. And being able to identify students who are pre-AP and college-bound helps the students and the staff members working with them to explore opportunities for the future, which won’t happen if the students don’t know what their potential is and where they may be headed.
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. Jeannie Stone was named Superintendent of Schools for Richardson ISD in January 2017. Dr. Stone was first hired as RISD Deputy Superintendent in July 2015, then became acting Superintendent and interim Superintendent. She began her career in 1990 as a middle school English teacher in Dallas ISD, then spent 20 years in Mesquite ISD serving in various leadership roles. During her first year as Principal at Mesquite Poteet High School, the campus was named a National Blue Ribbon School. As an educator, Dr. Stone has been recognized for her innovative leadership and commitment to children, being named 2017 Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Educational Support Staff Association; Altrusa International’s 2018 Outstanding Woman of Today; and the 2019 Texas Superintendent of the Year by Texas PTA. She was also recently honored in the Dallas Business Journal’s first Leaders in Diversity Awards.
Katrina Collins is a 23-year educator and served as a classroom teacher for ten years before transitioning into campus leadership roles, including Instructional Specialist, Assistant Principal, and currently as Principal. She has been recognized for her instructional leadership as the 2019 National Parent Engagement Award recipient from NABSE and has served as a guest panelist for several podcasts to support creating a more inclusive school environment. She is currently a doctoral student at Grand Canyon University.
Carrie Breedlove is a 25-year educator having started her career as a junior high English teacher. She has also taught at the high school level, as well as held leadership positions at the central office before returning to the campus as a junior high school assistant principal, principal, and now high school principal.
Toni Jackson has been in education for over 20 years and has taught in MO, AZ, and currently in TX as a sixth-grade teacher in Richardson ISD. She has served in numerous teacher leader roles throughout her career, including curriculum development, professional developer, and mentor teacher. She has a master’s in educational administration as well as cross-cultural teaching.
About the Moderator
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.
The summary of this presentation was written by Robert Low.
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.