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Building a Racial Equity Office to Give All Students a Path Toward Success

Dallas ISD’s REO is a leading example and source of inspiration for districts across the country.

If we’re going to give all students the experiences, support, and structures to ensure their success, we need to make sure that each individual student has what they need to thrive. Schools, systems, and communities must work together to mobilize the right combination of resources: a combination that creates high-quality learning experiences and outcomes for all students and ensures that race is no longer predictive of a student’s life trajectory. As Harvard professor Dr. Irvin Scott says, this work can start with leaders in education who are committed to actively changing the structural and systemic inequities in schools and school systems.

In 2017, the Dallas ISD Board took a big step. It unanimously passed a Racial Equity Resolution and Policy and established the Racial Equity Office (REO). The policy charges the REO to create high-quality learning experiences for all students by focusing explicitly on African Americans and English language learners, the two student groups that Dallas ISD’s data had made clear needed a different combination of resources than what they currently had. This demonstrated a commitment to the hard, necessary work of education resource equity—and in the years since, Dallas ISD’s REO has become a role model for districts across the nation.

The work in Dallas ISD is an inspiring example for district leaders pursuing education resource equity in their own systems. We worked with Dallas ISD to write a detailed whitepaper about their experience, with some excerpted findings included here. View the full white paper or read on to learn about Dallas ISD’s approach.  

Critical Mindsets to Enable Successful Racial Equity Work

To accelerate and sustain high-quality learning experiences for every student—particularly for African American and Emergent Bilingual students—Dallas ISD equity leaders worked to cultivate specific mindsets and skills across the district, including in these three areas:
  • Equity and excellence. There needs to be a shared understanding around why resource equity is central to creating excellent education for all students—and why some students have additional needs and therefore need additional resources.  
  • Shared responsibility and joint accountability. District equity leaders must instill a systemwide culture of shared responsibility and joint accountability.  
  • Continuous improvement. No one’s going to get this work right on the first try—but we need to start somewhere, which means that creating a culture of continuous improvement around equity work is critical.

Designing a Racial Equity Office 

Alongside the ongoing work of cultivating specific mindsets and skills among central office team members, an effective Racial Equity Office works to enable collective action. 

There are four key responsibilities—and related competencies—that leaders at Dallas ISD made sure to design for:

  • Equity-driven design and delivery across system-wide responsibilities 
  • Community engagement 
  • Interpretation of data disaggregated by race 
  • Racial equity mindset work (unconscious bias, etc.)

When facing a number of challenges in these areas, Dallas ISD's Racial Equity Office made strategic shifts to its approach.  

Establishing a Racial Equity Office 

Every district or organization considering its own REO will enter this work with a different context. Dallas ISD started with these six critical phases to organize the thinking and set itself up for continued success. Districts can follow these steps to help prepare for the critical racial equity work required. 

  • Phase 1: Establish a policy. Consider how you can create an environment in which the right people actually have the power to make decisions and shift resources as needed. 
  • Phase 2: Identify the team. You’ll need to figure out who the right person is to lead the work and who else will be on their team. Think about the district context, existing talent, and potential talent pool, to determine whether it makes sense to promote from within or search externally.
  • Phase 3: Set up stakeholder engagement structures. Identify the key leaders to empower in this process. Think carefully about which stakeholders should be engaged in this work. 
  • Phase 4: Develop a shared understanding of baseline data. Use data to discuss the drivers of inequity within schools and across schools. Identify your most pressing challenges and which higher-need schools will require additional resources.
  • Phase 5: Focus the work. Think through which priorities align with your district’s existing goals or initiatives. 
  • Phase 6: Set up progress monitoring structures. Consider what systems of progress monitoring are currently in place. What systems should you revise or create?

 

Read the full white paper, "Forward: The Path to Racial Equity"

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