Last year Chalkboard Project launched a pilot project exploring equity issues in the Tillamook and David Douglas school districts. With the help of Chalkboard facilitators, educators, students, parents, and community members met to explore the root causes and impact of inequity in the education system and to devise strategies for addressing those issues.
Each of the districts has embarked on its own path toward better understanding the challenges many of their students face as they develop short- and long-term goals and strategies to break down barriers to communication and student success. As the pilot continues to move through implementation this year and next, Chalkboard will evaluate the lessons learned and identify promising practices in order to extend the equity focus in districts across Oregon.
Tillamook’s Randy Schild, a widely respected and innovative educator who was named the 2015 Oregon Superintendent of the Year, recently spoke with Chalkboard about his district’s equity work. As someone who grew up in Tillamook, taught in its schools, and has served as superintendent for 16 years, he brings a unique perspective to the issue.
Why is it so important to talk about equity in our school systems?
It is easy for us in education to say it’s about “all kids.” But when you sit down and think about what that really means, you realize you have to understand your students at a different level.
Equity means all students has the opportunities, the encouragement, and the support they need to be successful. If kids know you care, you’re three steps ahead of where you’d be otherwise.
What do you see as some of the main challenges?
We have about 30 percent of our students here in Tillamook that are Hispanic. Yet we have had a really hard time getting employees that reflect the demographics of our students. A lot of our Hispanic/Latino students come into a system that is predominantly white and probably predominantly privileged, as far as the staff is concerned. Creating that welcoming space when you have the language barriers and the cultural barriers we have, has been an issue.
Also the majority of our population— about 65 percent of our students— qualify for free and reduced school lunch. Tillamook is what you would call a fairly economically deprived area. We also have a lot of students stuck in generational poverty. In a lot of these cases it’s a matter of making connections and helping students see that there is hope through education.
How do equity challenges impact students and schools?
The reality is, what we’re trying to do is break down the barriers that get in the way of learning.
For example, kids coming to school. Attendance is dramatically higher when students feel connected, and attendance rates have a direct correlation to student success. The ultimate goal is having kids who are going to be here and who are going to learn, and therefore have better graduation rates, better statewide assessments, and all the other things that come along with that…. So how do you connect with students and their families to make them feel special?
Any progress so far?
It’s early in the process, but we’re coming up with different ideas to try out and then evaluate to see whether these would be things we could roll out across the district.
When we sat down as a group to discuss equity, we came up with a problem statement that asks, how do we make every student and parents feel welcome and at home in our district? One of the things we’re setting up is a welcome center with a bilingual and bicultural staff so we have a good conduit and a good connection to the community so everyone can feel welcome. We’re also identifying some teachers to form “community circles” with students and staff in their schools as a way to connect with them on a more personal level… So far it’s been very positive.
As someone with deep community roots, tell us why equity needs to be a priority in TIllamook.
I went to school with kids who dropped out. [As a teacher] I had their kids in class who dropped out, and now I’m dealing with the grandparents—those same students who went to school with me—raising their grandkids, and they’re having the same issues. We have to stop the cycle.
Staying in school, getting into college or trade school or whatever it might be, is going to be their only chance. If they drop out here, they’re almost assuredly destined to live a hard life. Every time you have one of these conversations, you realize the importance of this work.
- School Leadership
- Student Success
- Equity and Diversity