Staff equity meetings aim to bring awareness to biases

By Leda Edwards, Managing Editor

“The gap in achievement among students of different races is about poverty, not race.” 

Do you agree strongly, neither agree nor disagree, or disagree strongly? 

This is just one of the questions that staff members have been asked to discuss in their monthly staff equity meetings.

Every two years, CPS schools are required to come up with a Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP). Each plan has to have a minimum of three focus points, or strategies, that are directly tied to the budget of each school and are somewhat aligned with CPS’ goals.

One of Lane’s CIWP’s goals is to create and maintain equity across the entire building.

Over the previous summer, Assistant Principals Ms. Thompson and Ms. Hanly conducted a Professional Development (PD) for the district administrators about the work that they had been doing with the culture and climate focus groups and decided to implement equity into the current school year. 

Lane already has a staff Race Relations Committee, but after realizing that staff should have a better understanding of the social issues surrounding the school, Hanly knew that the work Lane was already doing had to be expanded. 

“I met with Mr. Tennison at the end of last year to say, the Race Relations Committee is great, but I think that we need to reach people that are not a part of the race relations committee and so that’s why we decided that once a month we talk to [the teachers] about equity.” Hanly said. 

 While dealing with sensitive topics such as race, Hanly felt that it was important to include the oversight of a person of color and decided to ask Ms. Thompson if she would join her. 

“Ms. Hanly is actually the person who deals with culture and climate,” Thompson said. “Last year she asked if I would mind working with her, with the things that we would do with staff and so we partnered together to come up with things.”

More than a third of the staff voluntarily showed up for their first Race Relations Committee meeting, Thompson said. 

“That’s where that initial work had started, and [it was] like, this needs to be beyond just this core group,” Thompson said. 

Unlike the Race Relations Committee, staff equity meetings are mandatory for all Lane staff and are held once a month, from September until March.

Each meeting is spread throughout five, fifty-minute prep periods to accomodate all staff members.

 “[In] the first PD, we focused on ‘What is equity?’ and ‘What does that mean?’ Then we spent a session talking about self,” Hanly said.

Hanly created an “equity wheel” that serves as an outline for their equity meeting curriculum. 

“Equity is at the center of what we are supposed to be doing,” Hanly said. “The outer part of that is, ‘How do we look at ourselves as teachers or staff members?’ And then the outer ring is ‘What does our class look like in terms of that? What does our department look like?’ and ‘What does our school look like?’ 

Each session has a different focus such as curriculum, classroom, and implicit bias, Hanly said. 

“Right now, we’re planting the seeds and each year we’re going to keep building on those things and hopefully get some grant money to get proper speakers,” Hanly said. “For the most part, Ms. Thompson and I are running this thing now, and we go to a lot of PD to get help for some of this, but I think that there are experts out there that can engage the staff in conversation.” 

While the equity meeting curriculum is being created as administrators go, they do have a well-established idea of what they’re looking to gain from each meeting. 

“We’ve been spending the last two PDs working on [classrooms],” Hanly said. “What does your classroom look like, what do you have up in your classroom, what are you teaching, how do you handle situations with students when you hear inappropriate language, how do you address when [for example] an African American student is sitting in your class and something comes up?”

While a lot of their work stems from the African American Focus Groups that were conducted last year,  Hanly made it clear that these meetings are not centered around one major issue, but a combination of issues that she and other administrators are aiming to address.

“Equity is not just about race, so we talk about diverse learners, we talk about different identities around gender, sexual orientation, racial identity, ethnic identity, etc.,” Hanly said. “It’s about any equitable situation for our students.”

In order to administer these meetings, speakers have to be well-versed in all things surrounding equity. That is why Ms. Thompson and Ms. Hanly are going to an equity conference downtown in mid-February.

According to Thompson, both she and Hanly get curriculum ideas from Teaching Tolerance, a website geared toward helping teachers and schools educate the youth with an emphasis on social justice and anti-bias.

“We come up with creative ways to have teachers actually navigate through their own thoughts and their own actions,” Thompson said.

English teacher Mr. Telles is just one of the many staff members who attend the meetings and he says that he finds them to be enlightening. 

“I know dealing with my own upbringing, my own background knowledge, and just the things that I know that informed me as far as equity, it’s something that I am aware of,” Telles said. “It’s cool that it is being brought to the forefront of these PDs. It makes [me] really think about how I am addressing my students of color, and my LGBT students. It’s a nice exercise of where my thinking is.”

These meetings are considered to be a learning experience for all staff, no matter what their social background is. 

“I think [the administration is] doing a good job of what they’re doing, just kind of dispersing the data, talking about it, and getting into best practices, about how to be more equitable,” Telles said. “They’re getting us into that headspace and now they’re giving us tools. We’re giving each other tools, and I think that’s how you really shift the culture so that what we’re doing is effective.”

In order to see just how effective these meetings are, Hanly said they plan to send out surveys to all staff members to see what areas the staff would like more support in. Administrators will also be looking at this year’s round of student focus groups to see if any positive changes have been implemented.

“The focus groups are open to everybody,” Hanly said. “We’ll certainly be talking a little bit about the things that we’ve been thinking about in the equity PD to determine [if changes have occured]. 

Sarah Hanly
Staff attend one of the many equity PD meetings in room 113 where they cover topics such as implicit and explicit biases.