Racial Equity Office makes strides to level opportunity for all students

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Not quite a year ago, Dallas ISD’s Racial Equity Office was established to identify and remove obstacles to creating a level playing field for all students to succeed.

The new department is already making a positive impact with an intentional, focused and measurable approach. The first step has been identifying inequities in the district, not only student achievement, but student access to things such as technology, specialized programming and well-maintained facilities.

When inequities are found, the office collaborates with relevant departments to come up with solutions. In fact, when the office began its work, staff made an effort to meet with representatives of every Dallas ISD department.

“We reviewed the racial equity policies of urban school districts across the country,” said Leslie Williams, Deputy Chief Racial Equity. “We noticed that most of the policies were generic statements. We didn’t want that – we wanted to be very specific.”

Being specific isn’t enough. The progress of those strategic outcomes has to be monitored with goal progress measures – ways to gauge an effort’s effectiveness along the way. Williams said data-driven, deep-dive analysis of data helps drive their efforts and lets them know quickly when something is working.

“We are the only district in the country, that we’ve noticed, that does that,” Williams said. “The plan is for the racial equity in Dallas ISD to set the standard for the country. We plan to have school districts from all over this country to see how are you doing that.”

The office has seven major areas of focus, listed here.

Williams also points to strong support from the Board of Trustees, which unanimously passed a Racial Equity resolution in December 2017 and unanimously approved the policy in June 2018.

Existing initiatives won’t necessarily be going away, Williams said, but rather they are being taken districtwide. For example, the successful African American Success Initiative (AASI) was formerly only implemented at selected schools.

The latest African American Read-In on Feb. 9, which had been a major program of the AASI, was more inclusive than it ever had been.

“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.”

Although the department was established in April 2018, it wasn’t until June that Williams transitioned to head the effort. He was leading the Intensive Support Network and had to wait until STAAR results were out to determine which district schools were classified as Improvement Required. The results are one of the district’s recent success stories, as Dallas ISD had 43 Improvement Required campuses in 2013-2014, and just four in 2017-2018.

Williams credits Superintendent Michael Hinojosa for having the vision to create the Racial Equity Office in the first place. Without intentionally identifying inequities and working to solve them, change won’t happen.

Besides continually monitoring its work, the office is also working to develop a branding and marketing plan to share their efforts with others.

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