Equity in Topeka Public Schools - History

  • During the 2011-2012 school year, our district and building leaders began to explore how race might be impacting our student achievement levels in a negative way.  In order to have conversations about race, we needed guidance.  We decided to solicit help and advice from Mr. Glenn Singleton with the Pacific Education Group.  He co-authored the book “Courageous Conversations about Race” with Mr. Curtis Linton.  We began our equity journey by participating in a book study, “Courageous Conversations about Race”. Each school administrator was put on a team, and each team became the expert of one chapter of the book. They facilitated the conversation about their learning with the whole administrative team. The learning all participants gained were how their own biases and perceptions about race impact decisions they make as leaders. What people believe, right or wrong, does impact what they do or how they act. The administrators also learned how to utilize a series of protocols to engage others in conversations about race. Most importantly they learned to isolate race when looking at data and asking, “Do these results have anything to do with race”.  

     At the conclusion of our book study, our administrative team wanted to expand their own learning and knowledge and figure out how to engage more educators in the conversation. An equity planning team was developed to design a plan of engagement. The first thing this planning team did was to create a District Equity Council. They created bylaws for the Equity Council and began to search for membership. Anyone who wanted to be a part of the Equity Council applied for a position. The Equity Council is comprised of district leaders, building leaders, teachers, classified staff, NEA-T and DCAC representation, parents, students, and community members. The Equity Council will begin their fourth year of operation during the 2015-16 school year. Their goal is to review data and make recommendations around the district’s strategic plan to improve equity issues to the Board of Education. Their first set of recommendations was presented to the Board of Education in the Spring of 2014.  One of their recommendations was to hire an Equity Director and that was approved. A subcommittee of the District Equity Council developed a job description for this new position in our district and assisted with the hiring process. The selected District Equity Director, Dr. Beryl New, began working in February, 2015. Secondly, the Equity Planning Team, investigated what the Pacific Educational Group had to offer in regards to more training for our district and building leaders and teaching staff. We learned that a two-day Beyond Diversity Training was the next step. In fact, this training is a fundamental training that is recommended for every staff member in the school organization. This training allows each participant to self assess where their beliefs about race are and how those beliefs may be impacting what and how they teach minority students. The training also helps them to learn conversation protocols that they can use to engage people into conversations about race. All of our building leaders and most of our district leaders had this training in June, 2012. An additional Beyond Diversity training was offered in 2013-14 for any staff member who wanted to take the training and for all the teacher leaders who want to assist with the creation of Equity Teams in our schools. This accounted for approximately 200 teachers. In the summer of 2014 we trained approximately 200 more staff. These were predominately new teachers coming into our district. The Equity Planning Team also learned that more training was needed for our building and district leaders so they could continue on their own personal equity transformational journey. They have now participated in six, one day long, LEADS Seminars. The LEADS training took place in 2012-2013 (LEADS 1-3) and 2013-2014 (LEADS 4-6). The Board of Education for the past two years have been participating in equity training and a district equity leadership team (DELT) was established, and they have had additional training to lead this work. The multicultural training team that has been a long term standing committee in our district completed the book study and has participated in Beyond Diversity training. These committee members will be a part of the Equity Team leadership in each of the schools. Beginning in February, 2014, building and district equity teams participated in three E-Team trainings. They completed three more E-Team trainings in the year of 2014-15.  E-Team training is designed to assist the equity leaders to roll out this work to the teachers, staff, parents and students at the building level. Equity Teams began forming in the year 2014-15 with implementation to begin in 2015-2016. 

    Our long term goal is to offer Beyond Diversity training so all staff can have an opportunity to participate and to learn more about how race impacts our student achievement levels. Ultimately, we want all educators to make decisions by looking through the “racial lens” to ensure that our minority students are getting an equitable educational opportunity in Topeka Public Schools. The future will also include training around the most promising culturally relevant practices that teachers should be utilizing to engage minority students.  

    2014 was the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board case (May 17th). In celebration of this milestone our Equity Council partnered with the Topeka Public Library in an all-city book read, utilizing “Courageous Conversations about Race”. This was a very successful venture that was well attended and empowered people in the Topeka community to be able to have conversations about race.  We also had a wonderful Senior Recognition Night for our graduating seniors as the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, came to our school district and was the guest speaker for the night. This was a shining moment for Topeka Public Schools and her message challenged all in attendance to stay engaged by continuing conversations about race, work to close the achievement gaps, and to embrace and celebrate all people. 

     In 2014-2015 our Board of Education adopted the following definition of Equity for our district:

    Topeka Public Schools is committed to educational fairness and opportunity for all racial and ethnic groups and academic excellence and personal success for all students. Central to this commitment is educational equity. Educational equity means raising the achievement of all students while (1) eradicating the achievement gaps between the lowest and highest performing students and (2) eliminating the racial predictability or disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories.