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No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

David Evans And Vince Roig

Two hundred fifty public education, business, non-profit, civic and government leaders examined crucial leadership strategies and promising practices and gathered resources to close gaps in opportunity that are keeping thousands of Arizona students from achieving at high levels during The Equity Event April 9 through 10 in Phoenix.

The event, a first-of-its-kind undertaking, was hosted by Arizona School Boards Association in partnership with the Helios Education Foundation and WestEd and with support from the national Minority Student Achievement Network.

No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps DavidEvansVinceRoig

Chandler Unified School District Governing Board Member David Evans talks with Vince Roig, founding chairman of the Helios Education Foundation, at The Equity Event in Phoenix.

Equity means that every student has the opportunity he or she needs to graduate ready for college, career and life regardless of factors such as family income, where they live, their race or ethnicity, culture or physical or mental ability.

For education to be equitable, all students, whether they attend a school with high- or low-rates of poverty, should have access to the services they need, experienced teachers, rigorous curriculum and up-to-date learning resources, technology, facilities.

“Over the decade, I’ve read studies on the education achievement gap, between minorities and whites, between low-income and high-income students, we’re not going to beat that again with a stick,” said Kim Covington, former 12 News anchor and School Solutions reporter at the event. “We’re going to talk about solutions.”

Covington introduced a panel of students, each who had overcome significant challenges, who talked about their goals, the educational opportunities at their public schools that had supported those goals and their ideas to help other students.

No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps GoalsOfEducationalEquity1Educational equity hits close to home, because in Arizona, children in rural, suburban, urban areas and on Native American reservations face challenges from poverty, limited access to services, as well as language and other issues, said Dr. Tim Ogle, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association.

Educational equity in America is inextricably connected to social equity, said Dr. Neal Lester, professor of English at Arizona State University, who spoke at the event.

Many schools are examining their data to find inequities and change their practices, said Dr. Lenay Dunn, with the WestEd Region IX Equity Assistance Center.

No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps KimCovingtonStudentPanel

Kim Covington moderates a student panel made up of Darius Jackson, Jaime Perez, Oluwadara Ogundare and Mark Flores at The Equity Event. Photo by Mike Barcia/ASBA

At The Equity Event, Dunn and Dr. David Schauer, superintendent of the Kyrene Elementary School District, discussed how Kyrene district leaders and educators are benefitting from an equity inquiry process that is now underway in the 17,774-student district.

“The equity inquiry process is a way to examine your data through an equity lens to help you look at what the equity issues are in your district, their possible root causes and ultimately some strategies to help you address those issues,” Dunn said.

No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps EquityEventTableDiscussions

Irene Jones, left, Robert Candelaria, right, and another board member,far right, of the Page Unified School District Governing Board during table discussions at The Equity Event April 9 in Phoenix. Photo by Mike Barcia/ASBA

After identifying students’ opportunity gaps or needs, schools should invest in community and government partnerships to provide services that students need, said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who was the event’s opening speaker.

“The solutions emerge as more cost-effective, more politically palatable, with no doubt a greater possibility of improving results,” Carvalho said.

For example, “what the City of Phoenix wants to do is be the very best partner with our public schools,” said Mayor Greg Stanton.

No more siloed conversations: Tackling opportunity, achievement gaps DrNealLester

Dr. Neal Lester talks about what happens to a dream deferred at The Equity Event.

“We focus on four areas: school readiness, after school literacy, enrichment, summer learning and getting volunteers into our schools,” Stanton said.

A new initiative in Phoenix, Thriving Together “aspires to bring together a cross-section collaboration of education leaders, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, social service agencies, the philanthropic community and faith-based organizations” to support students from cradle-to-career by coordinating services and directing resources in ways that change systems to provide greater equity and improved outcomes, said Kent Scribner, superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District and co-chair of the initiative.

“We’ve got to take great practices to scale and affect everybody,” Scribner said.

(A day before The Equity Event, a pre-conference focused on the role of leadership in improving outcomes for Native American students. Next week, AZEdNews will feature a story about what Whiteriver Unified School District on the Fort Apache Reservation is doing to think differently about student success.)

Know 99 Television video of Dr. Timothy Ogle, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association, on equity