Dallas ISD leaders detail steps to radically improve equity and eliminate racism

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In a webinar focused on emotional intelligence and strategies aimed at dismantling racism in Dallas ISD, district leaders signaled last evening that parents and students can look forward to a much-improved environment of equity in every aspect of district operations. The promise came with a commitment to change the culture of Dallas ISD by training staff, enacting new norms and actively measuring progress and accountability around the goal.

Watch the webinar here

Director of Dallas ISD’s Racial Equity Office Dr. Sharon Quinn opened the webinar, “Using Emotional Intelligence to Create an Anti-Racist School System,” which was led by national diversity and inclusion expert Dr. Sandra Upton with the Cultural Intelligence Center. Upton opened with definitions of terms related to racism and provided several tip sheets with actions parents, teachers, administrators and community members can take to dismantle racism. The tip sheets are available here.

Defining racism as an underlying belief in the superiority of one race over another and its right to dominate, Upton emphasized that racism is a combination of prejudice and power. Other terms she defined included cultural intelligence or CQ, which is the ability to lead, teach and serve a diverse population of students and families; particularly African American students and other underrepresented groups. CQ is a skill that can be learned,  and anti-racists, Upton said, are people who take intentional action to oppose racism, racist systems and structures. With that definition as the backdrop, each of the district’s eight chiefs detailed the anti-racist actions they are taking to level the playing field for Black and English learner students.

Admitting that the district has historically fallen short at meeting the needs of Black students and English learners, Chief of Staff and Racial Equity Pam Lear said the district began efforts funding of the district’s Racial Equity Office followed by a resolution declaring the importance of Black lives and Black students and a call to apply all available district resources to redress historical inequities.

Lear said starting at the highest levels, Dallas ISD is continuing the work by providing districtwide staff development on cultural intelligence, unconscious bias and developing an equity mindset. The training will be coupled with ongoing monitoring of 100 percent of district operations, from curriculum, teacher training and materials, and staff hiring practices to communication, technology distribution, specialty school admission processes and funding and resource allocation.

As each of the eight chiefs joined the conversation, they shared the actions they and their staffs are taking to intentionally transform their areas of responsibility.

  • Chief of School Leadership Jolee Healey said there will be training to make teachers alert to the damaging effects of unconscious bias that can lower expectations and shortchange students. Other efforts will include better monitoring and sharing of student progress in ways that improve outcomes for all students.
  • Communications Chief Libby Daniels pledged her team will make a deliberate effort to tell stories about the staff and students who are doing meaningful work across the district to achieve equity. She shared a snapshot of a new webpage called Voices that she promised would tell impactful stories and show images that elevate students and reflect models that look like them to communicate that there is a path to success.
  • In the area of Strategic Initiatives, Brian Lusk said his team is will do more outreach to inform parents across the district of opportunities availability in choice, magnet schools and early college programs and closely examine admissions criteria to remove barriers to equity in the selection process.
  • While the district has recently made significant strides making internet connectivity available to families in previously underserved communities to the tune of equipping 33,0000 families with hot spots and devices in the last six months, Technology Chief Jack Kelanic said his team has much more work to do to provide access to communities that still lack reliable connectivity.
  • In the area of teaching and learning, Chief Shannon Trejo announced a reading program that will train 3,000 teachers to conduct read-alouds featuring culturally relevant literature by Black authors to engage students in ways that let them see themselves and their community. Citing the positive response to the district’s new Black and Mexican American studies programs, she said the team will embed additional relevant courses in the curriculum.
  • Human Capital Management Chief Cynthia Wilson said her team is intentionally looking for teacher candidates who are reflective, interactive and progressive in their outlook and behavior and will provide data and support to help teachers succeed in their work with Black students and English learners. Referencing a new program that has placed 13 Black male teachers in schools, Wilson said the team will redouble its efforts to recruit more African American males in elementary schools to support and encourage early learners.
  • Wrapping up the staff presentations, Chief Business Officer Dwayne Thompson said equity will be a chief driver in resource allocation with attention to training for procurement staff to help meet M/WBE goals and increase participation of minority vendors. In the area of construction, Thompson said a new dashboard is available to allow the public to see how bond funds are being spent.

At the close of the meeting, Racial Equity Office Director Sharon Quinn announced the discussion around improved equity in Dallas ISD will continue with a pre-recorded webinar in November and future sessions that will engage stakeholders in the discussion.

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