MRH Leadership Forges New Energy into Educational Equity
Celebrants stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder in the cafeteria of the Maplewood Richmond Heights High School cafeteria on February 22, 2017. It was the district’s annual Black History month celebration known as Soul Food Supper, a well-attended community meal bringing together families, students, school staff, and citizens. But the events of that particular evening would prove to be seminal in MRH history. On that night, the Board of Directors unveiled its newly-passed “Resolution on Educational Equity and Social Justice”, a bold and unprecedented promise to the world that MRH would practice, support and teach inclusivity, tolerance, dignity and equity for all.
Passage of the Resolution was timely, if not prophetic. Over the next two years, the Board would lean on that foundational document to counter emerging forces which threatened sustainable equity in classrooms. Challenges to equitability sprang up from many quarters. The nation’s highest education officer was an outspoken supporter of shifting resources to benefit private school systems over traditional public ones. In Missouri, a new governor attempted to pack the state school board with pro-private education advocates, jeopardizing students in rural and poorer communities. As for post-secondary education, Missouri ranked 45th in fiscal support for state colleges.
Fast forward to August, 2019, a weekend just before the start of the new academic year. The MRH Board of Directors, under the leadership of President Katie Kaufmann and Superintendent Dr. Karen I. Hall, huddled with district administrators in the high school library for a two-day intensive workshop presented by the renowned Midwest and Plains (MAP) Equity Assistance Center. The session -- described by members as “eye opening” and “challenging” -- represented the Board’s devotion to not giving lip service to its Resolution on equitable practices. (That gathering was followed by a special September 12 work meeting, this time with an architectural firm representative present to witness the Board’s desire to build equity into any future facilities upgrades.)
Dr. Hall initiated the district’s partnership with MAP at a high-intensity “Tier 3” level of building systemic equity partnerships. So, what is MAP? Federally funded under the terms of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, MAP provides training and technical assistance at no charge to public educational systems throughout 13 Midwest and Plains states. MAP believes that in order to be transformative, the work of educational equity must move beyond superficial diversity awareness and cultural proficiency training. It must explicitly address long-standing disparities in learning opportunities for students of racially, ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse backgrounds, as well as on the basis of gender and (dis)ability. In other words, equity champions must be prepared to intervene in reality in order to change it, a quality known as “critical consciousness.”
This path toward equity in education is guided by a comprehensive data collection procedure called The Equity Context Analysis Process-District Led. “ECAP-DL is a set of tools which helps us assess how well we’re doing right now in achieving equity,” explains Dr. Hall. “But more importantly, it helps us identify opportunities for growth and it supports equity-oriented strategic planning. This includes engaging diverse stakeholders in the process.”
Equity training under the tutelage of Dr. Hall was first introduced at MRH nine years ago not long after she entered the district as an assistant superintendent. She leveraged her partnership with the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis (NCCJ), an organization founded in 1930 with the mission of promoting inclusion for all people. NCCJ honored Dr. Hall in 2019 at its annual Brotherhood-Sisterhood Awards, pointing to her long track record of building inclusiveness into the MRH educational system.
Equity training extends to MRH students, as well. Over three days in late September, high schoolers participated in a summit organized by the NCCJ. Participants gained an increased understanding of:
Their diverse identities, including race, class, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, age, and religionheir socialization because of those identities, and the impact they have on their interactions with peers, adults , and the larger community,
How power, oppression, and privilege operate based on these identities at the personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels,
Individual interaction patterns, organizational policies and practices that might perpetuate exclusion, inequity, and injustice, and
Strategies for taking action that promotes equity and inclusion within their group, school district, or community.
Today, the MRH Board is engaged in two critical processes: examining the connection between achieving educational equity and cultivating critical consciousness, and discussing their roles in creating a critically-conscious school organization that centers equity in policy and practice. Over the course of the fall, the MRH Board will work to refine its education equity framework and participate in a book study on “The Deepest Well,” which explores the long-term impact of childhood adversity and how to defeat that cycle.
“We seek to overcome the social, cultural, and educational barriers that members of our diverse population may experience through advocacy, community engagement, and professional development,” says Board President Kaufmann. “We believe we must directly confront issues of diversity and social justice in order to alleviate the inequitable practices and outcomes these issues spawn.”
For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.