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With equity and equality for all

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by Kristi Sandvik
Superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District

Each morning, the 5,200 students in Buckeye Elementary District schools, as well as schools across Arizona and the country, recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag that ends with “liberty and justice for all.” I agree with this practice of teaching and affirming the freedoms we hold dear to us, but as a school superintendent in a diverse school district, we also need to look at equity and equality for all.

Buckeye Elementary currently serves a diverse population of 69 percent minority students on six (soon to be seven) campuses with all schools receiving complimentary breakfast and lunch. Many of our students come from homes and backgrounds where English is their second language.

As we began to look at equity and equality in Buckeye District schools, we began to notice data that spoke volumes about our students. Suspension rates among particular students were higher, as well as a discipline system that focused on consequences rather than rewarding positive behaviors. We realized this was resulting in a large amount of instructional time loss. The challenges were clear; however, the next step was searching for solutions.

In 2013, the district joined the Minority Student Achievement Network (www.msan.org), a national organization whose mission is to understand and change school practices and structures that keep racial achievement gaps in place while improving the achievement of all students. It is a coalition of school districts that have come together to understand and eliminate achievement/opportunity gaps that persist in their schools. MSAN has acted as a support system for changing behaviors and attitudes as we began our journey to discovering how we could positively impact and change the culture in the district.

We administered staff and student surveys to assess climate, needs and equitable opportunities to 240 staff and more than 1,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students in 2015. With the results in hand, the Equity Leadership Team created a District Transformational Equity Plan this year. The plan includes launching school-based equity teams and setting goals in three areas: equity leadership, cultural responsive instruction and parent empowerment and community engagement.

To this end, Buckeye Elementary School District was recently selected to present at the National School Boards Association’s annual conference on “Achieving Equity: Leadership Strategies and Promising Practices for Closing the Opportunity and Achievement Gaps.” Highlights included ways that schools could make positive changes, including collaborating with other districts on an Equity Leadership Summit enabling students to learn from others and training the next generation of leaders. Their remarks and reflections speak volumes on how they felt after participating. “You don’t have to act different to fit in with others. Everyone has their own life stories of who he or she was and what they became … be yourself. You don’t have to treat others differently just because they look and act different.”

From the plan and goal setting, support from the Minority Student Achievement Network and other districts, we can aptly say without hesitation, REFORMED leadership takes place when policies and practices ensure opportunities and resources are intentionally allocated to those who have not been well served because of their race, ethnicity, class and home language. EQUITY is achieved when there is sufficient evidence that EACH child has a high quality educational experience, and outcomes and successes are not predicted by RACE.

It is our sincere hope that soon all students when reciting the pledge will be able to declare they go to school in a district and schools with “equity and equality for all.”

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