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Equity Overview

Maine Township High School District 207 began its equity journey several years ago when it initiated the process of opening up its accelerated and advanced placement courses to students based on desire, aptitude and career goal instead of locking students into tracked course sequences. More recently, it began a deeper exploration of equity as a system of reaching the needs of all students by starting a SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) cohort in the area of professional development, the creation of an equity leadership team at both the district and building levels, the creation of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism) student groups in each of our buildings, and professional learning opportunities to increase equity, diversity, and inclusive practices in our buildings and classrooms.

Why is the Focus on Equity Needed?

Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain shares the following 5 Presuppositions to get started with Culturally Responsive Teaching.

  1. From its inception, the American public education system was intentionally designed to produce inequitable educational outcomes. Students were sorted into those who would go directly to work and those deemed to be “college material.”
  2. The education system creates opportunity gaps, which in turn produce achievement gaps.
  3. All students begin school as dependent learners by virtue of their age and development, but a disproportionate number of racially and linguistically diverse students remain dependent indefinitely because of inequitable practices.
  4. In-school practices contribute more to the achievement gap than the student’s home life.
  5. Culturally responsive pedagogy is focused on counter-acting the system’s effort to under-develop diverse students’ cognitive skills, not simply “boost self-esteem.”

In 2001 the Federal Government passed the bi-partisian legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) signed into law by President George W. Bush, which began to hold school districts to a different standard. Schools are now considered to be failing if all students are not “college-ready” by graduation from high school.

To ignore the need to address equity issues in public schools is to ignore the mandate of the federal government and ignore the promise held dear in this country that education can be the great equalizer. So central to ensuring all students succeed are equity initiatives that the Illinois School Board of Education adopted equity as a central tenet of its strategic plan and adopted Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leadership Standards for all teachers and school leaders in Illinois.

Equity in District 207

Equity is about fairness, justice and individuals getting what they need and deserve in order to reach their full potential as opposed to equality, which is about sameness and treating everyone in exactly an identical manner regardless of their differences or unique situations. District 207’s focus on equity acknowledges that race, national origin, linguistic differences, and disabilities are some of the first visible indicators of identity while recognizing that students hold multiple, intersecting identities such as physical ability, sexual orientation including gender identity and/or expression, mental health, religion, economic status, national origin and many other personal characteristics. Implicit bias based on these realities involves assigning meaning to these outward traits. As historian Robin D. G. Kelley says, “Racism isn’t about how you look, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look.” In District 207, we feel it is important to recognize each individual’s lived experience and consider those varying perspectives and voices as an asset to our community.  

“By 2042, the United States will be a nation comprised primarily of people of color. Even sooner, by 2032, the majority of Americans less than 30 years of age will be Latino, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American…The importance of talking about race in the right ways has never been greater…results showed convincingly that it is better to address race than to avoid it.”  ~ Center for Social Inclusion 2012 report: Talking about Race

Training and Professional Learning

Building leaders, new staff, members of the security department, veteran teachers and administrators have participated in equity workshops as an introduction to moving from colorblindness to color consciousness. These workshops include:

  • Beyond Diversity, Pacific Education Group
  • SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)
  • Courageous Conversations-The Experience, Pacific Education Group
  • Uncovering Unconscious Bias
  • Culturally Responsive Education and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond
  • Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity, Cobb and Krownapple 

Systems of Equity in District 207

In the fall of the 2019-20 school year, the District 207 Equity Leadership Team (DELT) was formed with representatives from each of the four schools. The majority of DELT members have completed SEED and Beyond Diversity training. DELT members are not necessarily traditional school leaders as defined by seniority but individuals with the will to gather regularly throughout the year with the purpose of: 1) Engaging in a process of investigation to explore how race, gender, national origin, and ability impacts personal/professional attitudes and behaviors; 2) Guiding key decision makers to examine individual and institutional culture as related to equity, 3) Establishing a professional learning community for participants to develop essential skills and knowledge to improve student performance and work toward eliminating achievement disparities related to race, gender, national origin, and ability; 4) Making recommendations to key decision makers.

In the 2020-21 school year, each of our schools developed a Building Equity Leadership Team (BELT) to address issues surrounding race, gender, national origin, and ability specific to each educational community. Those members are representative of the different positions in the buildings and of members who have participated in SEED and or Beyond Diversity training.

As a result of the work of the district and building teams, an inclusion audit is being conducted by interviewing our students concerning their feelings of belongingness as it relates to our curriculum. A hiring practices committee has been established to ensure future employees bring an equity mindset and the experience and skills that would strengthen District 207’s capacity to do equity work with integrity as District 207 continues its journey toward building a more inclusive and equitable environment. To ensure that student voice is at the forefront of our efforts, each building includes students in their equity conversations and has established student SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism) clubs.

Path Forward

As District 207 continues its journey toward building a more equitable and inclusive school community it’s essential to stay the course. We must reimagine a system that focuses on student learning instead of seat time and that repurposes our leadership structures to build the muscle of strategic equity leaders versus being reactive. This means as adults a commitment to doing things differently for the benefit of all students. Change is hard. So when we say we want to build a more equitable and inclusive learning environment, we must focus on District 207’s vision of learning together with purpose, passion and getting it “right” for every student so that they are stretched but not stressed while their social emotional needs are nurtured. As Bryan Stevenson says, we must get proximate, stay hopeful and be willing to do uncomfortable, difficult and inconvenient things for the sake of our shared humanity. We must create spaces to honor and support the social identity groups of our children and the adults in the Maine Township High School District 207 school community.