By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
As we close out 2019–2020, I want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of all educators to support and care for the children and families of their communities. If there were a Purple Heart for educators, you would certainly be deserving.
The theme of the final CASDA newsletter for 2019 – 2020 attempts to answer the question, what have we learned from the challenges we have faced? The COVID-19 pandemic created, exacerbated, and illuminated numerous challenges. We learned educators were able to evolve and continue supporting students and families during unprecedented circumstances. However, it became clear that our system is fraught with inequities that have made it challenging for many students and families to truly benefit from the purpose of a free public education system.
The recent protests ignited by the brutal actions of police officers are symptomatic of the deeper issue of institutional racism. We have learned much about ourselves, our system of education and our society. Honestly, I am saddened by the actions of certain people and inspired by the actions of others who are speaking out about racism and inequity and taking meaningful action. I have a personal stake in this fight. My daughter, Emma, will turn 17 a few days after the publication of this article. Emma is Chinese, my wife and I are not. We adopted Emma when she was one year old, and she has lived as a citizen in the United States for the past 16 years. Still, I worry about her safety as I worry about the safety and well-being of Black and brown children in our schools and communities. Emma has been subjected to her share of racism, albeit to a lesser degree than her Black and brown peers. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure the physical, intellectual, and emotional safety of all children. It is incumbent upon those of us who have benefited from our white privilege to challenge institutional racism and inequity.
During 2019 – 2020, CASDA determined its work would be guided by four focus areas: Leadership; Curriculum & Instruction; School Improvement; Social Emotional Learning. In addition, we recognized it was imperative that our work in each of these areas be tied to the work of creating equitable school systems. Equity became the central focus of all of our work. Our choice to focus on equity was intentional and I can assure you, in 2020 – 2021, CASDA will increase the intensity of our equity mission by offering more professional learning opportunities focused on equity and anti-racism. CASDA will center equity in all of our work with school districts. We will continue to work with partners such as the McLean Group and Common Thread Consulting who can provide expertise and perspective to districts pursuing equity-driven initiatives, and will continue to seek new partnerships to support schools’ equity and anti-racism efforts.
I would like to share a resource I think you will find helpful in beginning this work. The School Comprehensive Education Plan (SCEP) Inequity Review Self-Assessment was created by NYSED and was developed to assist schools who are required to have a School Comprehensive Education Plan. HOwever, it is a valuable tool for any school or district. The documents assist schools in identifying potential sources of inequity driven by policies and practices at the building and district level. Moreover, these potential sources of inequity are within the purview of the school to address. For example, one potential area of inequity identified in the documents is: Equitable Access to Advanced Coursework and Educational Opportunities (Elementary, Middle and High Schools). In this section, seven statements are provided for reflection with the option to mark “yes” or “no” in response to each statement. For example, statement 1 says, “The school has done a review of those enrolled in advanced/honors coursework to determine if all demographic groups are enrolling in advanced coursework and that enrollment is consistent with the student population. An answer of “no” to this or any of the statements prompts educators to ask, “What might the school do during the 2020-21 school year to address inequities that exist?” CASDA intends to use this tool as we work with school districts during the next school year.
We have learned a great deal in the recent months. Perhaps our most important takeaway is that inequity permeates every aspect of our society, including our school systems. So, what steps will we take to make lasting and substantive change? I shared with you some actions CASDA has taken, is taking, and will be taking in the year ahead, what will you do? Solutions will require each of us to first examine our own thinking and behavior. It is time to step up and do the right thing. What learning will we take forward to inform the reopening of schools, what practices, policy’s, and behaviors will we leave behind? What world do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?
Until September, be hopeful, be vigilant, be introspective and be well. As always, please know you can call on CASDA to support you in your professional learning needs as we have been doing for the past 70 years in service to the educators of the Capital Region!