Kali Ladd on Black Student Success | Chalkboard Project

Kali Ladd on Black Student Success

Thursday, February 7, 2019 Communications Team

Oregon’s African American/Black Student Success Plan sets out an ambitious and comprehensive plan to support young people struggling in an inequitable education system. Formed by the Oregon Legislature in 2015 and led by a diverse advisory board of educators and community stakeholders, the plan outlines three main areas of objectives, strategies and outcomes: (1) improving school attendance; (2) engaging parents and communities; and (3) supporting critical transitions from early childhood through postsecondary education and training. To date, the state has awarded grants to 11 programs statewide, ranging from student leadership, youth mentoring, immigrant and refugee communities.

Thinking about the opportunities that are possible in 2019, Kali Ladd, a member of the advisory board, says, “We’re going to be looking at updating the state’s equity policy to make sure it is what it needs to be. Does it need to be strengthened? Does it need to be more specific?” Ladd is the co-founder and executive director of KairosPDX, an organization and school dedicated to education transformation in the form of building resilient leaders for the future. Kairos ensures children are college ready, culturally aware and committed to serving the community. She offers a unique perspective as someone who works both inside and outside the education system. She sat down recently to talk with Chalkboard:

How important is it for Oregon to have a specific Black Student Success Plan?

The fact that there’s a focus on black student achievement is phenomenal and necessary, and it’s about time. I think there’s a moral obligation to do more about this issue. Oregon is a state with great inequities, yet we are supposed to be champions of equity and progressive values.

If we’re serious about righting the wrongs of history, this is something we need to care about. Yes, it’s a small demographic (2.3% of K-12 enrollment), but shouldn’t that make it easier to fix? It’s also lives we are talking about–lives and communities.

You’ve been involved in this effort from the start. How do you feel about the progress so far?

It’s a slow process. We’ve been getting the right data, the right information, the right people at the table, and that takes time. I have a sense of urgency because every year that passes in which we don’t fix the problem means more children being negatively impacted. Yet it takes time to deliver something with some heft, there’s no way around that.

Most of the success plan grants have gone to community organizations. Why is that a priority?

The education system is so broken but I believe in its potential, and I want it to be healthy. However, an ailing system can rarely bring itself back to health without outside influence. I feel the work of these community organizations is a balm to address what’s ailing the system. These diverse organizations, with their deep understanding of communities and families, are very important.

As an educator, I’m partial to seeing more investment in strategies that impact early childhood and early learning. Those are formative years when the brain is developing, so they’re particularly important to stemming the tide of problems we see later on in the system.

How do teachers, the most important school factor in student success, make a difference?

Teachers are the most impactful people in a school, which is why professional development is so important. Of course, we need to diversify the workforce and curriculum. 

But we also have to help teachers understand their own schema, and how that impacts their work with students. Too many teachers aren’t prepared to teach in diverse classrooms because their lens is defined by the white, middle class filter through which they see the world. Focusing on equity is the key to changing the mindset and also changing the paradigm.

Learn more about Oregon’s African American/Black Student Success Plan here. 

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Image credit: Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

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