President's Corner

Social Justice For All
By Deborah L. Kerr/School Administrator, April 2020

In January, I participated in a community celebration of the 25th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. During the inspiring breakfast gathering, students shared their award-winning “Spoken Words” projects and community activists and business partners were recognized for their commitment to Dr. King’s legacy. Rather than take the day off, community members volunteered a day of service to others.

The theme of the celebration centered around the Dr. King’s quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The threat to justice includes our education system.

As servant leaders, superintendents must collaborate with their governing boards to stay student-centered, assets-based and data-driven with a focus on equity and excellence for all staff and students. Concurrently, school boards must govern with an agenda that emphasizes social justice and supports equity for all. How do we lead this important work?

First, we create leadership norms districtwide that focus on equity and excellence. Everyone must be able to and empowered to speak their truth with no blame, no shame and no judgment. Yes, conversations may be uncomfortable, and closing achievement gaps is hard work — but it is the right work. Boards and leadership teams at the district and school levels can champion equity by accepting students where they are in their educational journey and providing them the resources and support they need to achieve.

Second, when making decisions as a leadership or board governance team, we can use the following questions to guide discussions:

»What’s our definition of equity and how do our decisions address it?

»Do the decisions align with our district mission, vision, values and goals?

»Whom do the decisions affect positively and negatively?

»Do the decisions produce negative consequences, ignoring or worsening existing disparities?

»Are the decisions equitable for all students?

»Are the decisions and their outcomes sustainable?

A policy must be associated with every decision the board and district make. For example, Brown Deer School District developed and embedded equity non-negotiables into board policy to create a framework for decision making in the best interest of all students.

Board governance with a social justice lens is a key to successful outcomes for all students. Each of us has a role in preparing our children to be college-, career- and life-ready. As leaders of equity, we must continue to speak up and shout out the accomplishments of our students and schools.

We must be intentional in acknowledging the work necessary to improve achievement for all students. Even the most successful districts have achievement gaps, and we must be courageous enough to acknowledge those challenges, create goals and take action.

Superintendents are influencers — not only by what we say but also by what we do. We must commit to advancing board governance with the lens of equity to promote justice, hope and excellence in our schools and communities. Let’s be real changemakers in 2020.

The best way to honor Dr. King’s legacy is to embody the principles for which he lived and for which he died. While our challenges may be great, our resolve must be greater. We are one!

DEBORAH KERR is AASA president in 2019-20. Twitter: @DrDLKerr