The Dallas Examiner
In an effort to better balance the cultural scales of education and opportunity for local scholars, the Dallas Independent School District’s Racial Equity Office was established in 2018. Its goal was “to identify and remove obstacles to creating a level playing field for all students to succeed,” the agency announced in a prepared statement recently.
“What we did, as an office, we developed seven strategic outcomes after we reviewed the various racial equity policies from urban school districts throughout the United States,” remarked Leslie Williams, deputy chief of racial equity for Dallas ISD, as he cited Denver and Boston by name.
“Our policy, which is so different, is that most of the school districts, they only had like maybe one or two goals they tried to achieve,” he said.
Dallas ISD instead created a policy consisting of multiple issues that have goal-progress measures tied to each specific outcome.
“So that the board and the superintendent can always determine if we have reached those particular goals,” Williams voiced about investigating the ground gained on the seven targets.
As an effort to discover what steps are required and where improvements are still needed, the office released its first Fall 2018/Spring 2019 Updates and Accomplishments report.
“Just to summarize, we’ve met with every department within the Dallas Independent School District and what we did was … [met] with every chief of every department, and we did that to meet with them and to go over the policy that had been approved by the trustees,” Williams continued as he described the methodology behind the results of the report.
“And we want to applaud our trustees because the board policy was passed – and the racial resolution was passed – both of them, by a 9-0 vote,” he added, citing a willingness of the district to reflect on itself in terms of moving toward greater equality.
“Which means that we receive support from all nine of the trustees, and that was exciting to me. That doesn’t always happen in the district.”
The resolution to create the office was passed in Dec. 2017.
As outlined in the report, the needs of African American students and those who are learning English as a second language are the highest of priorities, leading to campuses with the higher populations of both groups receiving specialized attention from the office.
For example, the office has placed a heavier emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities than the district has in the past in an effort for graduates to continue on to higher education. The report documents that the HBCU Experience, originally an African American Success Initiative program, took place on Sept. 19, 2018. More than 800 students from 14 high schools participated at the time. Williams confirmed a similar event was on track for this year.
According to the deputy chief in the prepared statement, however, such targeting did not mean other student populations would be passed over. He used the African American Read-In, held Feb. 9, as an example of the multicultural makeup of local schools and the importance of the district to meet their needs as well.
“If you look at the pictures, you saw Muslim students, Hispanic students, African American students, Asian students – it was a very diverse group of kids there,” Williams said. “That’s our goal. I want the different ethnic groups to learn about each other’s cultures and history. If you know more about a person’s culture and their history, you’re going to get along better with that person.”
Part of that cultural awareness includes books and other learning materials being utilized throughout the school system, per the recent report.
“We’re starting what’s called an ALAANA Multicultural Reading Initiative. ALAANA – that’s African, Latino, Asian, Arab and Native American Multicultural Reading Initiative – and the ALAANA sections are being placed in every library throughout the district so that our students can go through the ALAANA and read about his or her culture and history,” the deputy chief offered.
“Or, let’s say hypothetically, if an African American student wanted to learn more about Asia – he or she has some friends that are Asian – he or she can go to that section and read about Asian history and culture.”
The concept also supports a more long-term REO goal. More students with various racial, religious and economic backgrounds interacting with one another, upon a base of education and awareness, helps in a more organic way to further the intent of the office in closing the achievement gap, Williams said.
Culturally relevant reading materials for class sets have also been purchased for sixth-grade through 10th-grade classes around the district.
“My philosophy is, if our young people learn more about each other’s history and culture, I think it’s going to be a better world,” Williams concluded. “If all adults took the time to study each other’s culture and history, I think we wouldn’t have issues that we have in this country; well, throughout the world.
Even staff in the schools, including support staff, such as the maintenance and custodial teams, will be included in a REO professional development framework. The three parts of that framework are implicit bias training, a cultural intelligence phase, a cultural competency phase, and culturally relevant teaching and learning.
Williams said the goals of the framework were mindset shifts and skill set development.
“How do you work with students who are from different cultures than yours, or how do you coexist and work with staff members on your team who come from different cultures or have a different history?” he asked.
“We remind everyone that we all have bias. And it’s amazing – as we have conducted these training sessions, it’s just been amazing what comes from it,” he considered.
“People come in and they’re real quiet in the beginning, but after they understand what we’re trying to achieve, at the end everyone’s talking and people share their lived experiences.”
In addition to the office monitoring its work to make sure goals are being met, the Dallas ISD entity is also focused on developing a branding and marketing plan to share its efforts with other school systems.
“The plan is for the racial equity in Dallas ISD to set the standard for the country,” Williams noted. “We plan to have school districts from all over this country to see how are you doing that.”