Reckoning With Segregation: How Dallas ISD is working toward racial equity

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We’ve been celebrating a Dallas hero this week – Mr. Sam Tasby, who filed the lawsuit that led to a court order 50 years ago to desegregate Dallas ISD. Yet, we know that court decision was not the last word.

Reckoning With Segregation: How Dallas ISD is working toward racial equity
Sharon Quinn

We spoke with Sharon Quinn, deputy chief of the district’s Racial Equity Office, to ask about some of the vestiges of segregation and what the district is doing to address them.

What are some of the lasting impacts of segregation in the district?

Segregation seeks to divide, disrupt, and ultimately destroy the futures of marginalized families and students. It perpetuates and enlarges opportunity gaps and barriers that adversely impact African American and English Learner students.

Understanding how polices and institutional systems build foundations for practice, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees took a courageous stand, acknowledging a history of institutional racism that systematically and systemically prohibited the educational and societal advancement of students.  The Board further committed to creating an environment where all students will have access to an equal and excellent education. 

What are Dallas ISD, and the REO specifically, doing to address these inequities?

The Board of Trustees created the REO for just that purpose: to shape policy and expectations for racial equity behavior in our district.

Trustees established a policy of six racial equity pillars that support an over-arching goal of successful academic outcomes for our students:

Instructional Equity. This has to do with how our district recruits, supports, and develops our teachers so they are prepared to provide excellent learning experiences for our students.

Programmatic Equity. Our office collaborates with each division to identify and remove any barriers that hinder a student’s access and/or entrance to district programs like Magnet Schools, Honors Courses, Gifted and Talented programs, and Collegiate Academies.  We also seek to ensure that students aren’t overly identified in programs that are perceived as punitive.

Equitable Leadership. Our district has outstanding principals, and we want to ensure that we recruit, retain, support, and celebrate their leadership.

Culturally Competent Workforce. Our office has done extensive work with promoting and fostering an    equity mindset with all our employees.  We’ve offered Cultural intelligence Professional Development and Implicit Bias Training for all our staff members.  Racial equity should be woven into the fabric of every decision we make.  Every department and every adult in the district is responsible for racial equity.

Meaningful Community Engagement. We want to have internal and external community engagement. We want to make sure that our community is being informed, but also that we have feedback to let us know how well we are doing in the district with regards to equity.

Facility and Location Equity. We want every building, every facility to be outstanding for our students.

These six pillars guide and operationalize our district’s strategic outcome of providing equitable academic outcomes for all of our students.

In addition, our district used data to identify 80 schools that are our highest priority when we consider equity opportunities.  These schools receive additional and differentiated supports to help close equity and opportunity gaps.

You also set three foundations for success in racial equity work. What are those?

First, developing an equity mindset throughout the district for all district staff. We want to educate the staff and community on what equity is and how to have an equitable outlook.

Next, the REO collaborates with central office departments to set measurable equity goals, monitor our progress, and report that progress to the Board of Trustees.  Our interdepartmental Equity Progress Team (EPT) leads this work.

Lastly, the REO meaningfully engages community stakeholders to provide feedback. The Trustee Appointed Advisory Committee (TAAC) is one of the ways we reach out.

Yearlong Equity Study  

Dr. Pam Lear, our Chief of Racial Equity, convened a yearlong equity working group to explore the lived experiences of our African American and English Learner students as they attend Dallas ISD Schools. The study was both qualitative and quantitative.  The group’s findings and recommendations are the impetus for each department’s SMART Goals to close opportunity gaps and achieve racial equity.

What will success look like? 

For me, success is actualizing the Racial Equity Office’s mission that race will not be a predictor of a student’s outcome.

If our goal is to have successful, excellent academic outcomes for students, then we will know that we have met that when our student data tells us that our African American students and English learners have the same academic opportunities and outcomes as all of their peers.

We want a student society where neither zip code nor race determine the quality of student opportunities or student outcomes.

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