Educational Equity & Excellence

  • Background about District Equity Work
    puzzle image In 2009, the Lawrence Board of Education set a goal “to raise the achievement of all students, while closing achievement gaps.” According to Kansas math and reading assessments and graduation rates, there are achievement disparities between white students and students of color. While concerns about the achievement of students of color, as well as students from poverty and students with disabilities, are not new concerns, the federal No Child Left Behind Act highlighted these achievement disparities for schools and districts across the country.

    The Change Process
    Lawrence district and school administrators began book study discussions in 2005 to further explore issues of racial achievement disparities. The book Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton served as a guide for these discussions.

    In the spring of 2009, a group of administrators, teachers, and community members attended the first National Summit for Courageous Conversations. The district continues to host "Beyond Diversity" seminars, inviting school board, administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and community members to examine these issues. In the spring of 2012, a group of administrators and teachers attended the national summit and returned with the Summit Leadership Award. Since then, school groups have attended the national summit each year.

    Also in 2009, four local African American men, Willie Amison, Craig Butler, Ed Brunt, and Bud Stallworth, began volunteering with Lawrence High School through a program called "Can We Talk." Their goal: to help eliminate barriers to student achievement by providing adult mentors for students, particularly black males. The adult volunteers meet with students regularly to openly discuss education, high-stakes achievement tests, and life after school. Student equity leadership groups have since been created at Free State High School, all four middle schools, and some elementary schools. In 2010, the Lawrence Board of Education presented Outstanding Citizen Awards to the Can We Talk program's founders.

    The school board contracted with Glenn Singleton, the book’s author, and the Pacific Educational Group (PEG) to provide professional development and consultation for the district’s efforts. Through its Framework for Systemic Equity/Anti-Racism Transformation, PEG helps school districts address racial educational disparities, become aware of institutional racism, and develop strategies for closing achievement gaps. PEG’s partner districts who have had long-term relationships with the organization report significant achievement gains for their students of color.

    Elementary students Equity Leadership
    In 2010-11, the Lawrence school board began participating in workshops focused on governing for systemic equity and transformation. A District Equity Leadership Team, made up of the superintendent, assistant superintendents, several department directors and school principals representing the elementary, middle, and high school levels, developed an Educational Equity and Excellence Plan, which was approved by the board. All school principals and district administrators also continue to participate in professional development activities to deepen their understanding of institutionalized racism and its impact on student learning.

    In the spring of 2011, each high school and a small group of elementary schools initiated E-Teams, school equity leadership teams. These teams consist of 8-10 racial equity leaders who have completed the Beyond Diversity seminar. The E-Teams participate in additional professional development activities designed to prepare staff to develop and guide the implementation of their own school’s Equity Transformation Plan. The remaining schools developed E-Teams in 2012.

    During the 2013-14 school year, the district formed its first CARE Teams to begin conducting Collaborative Action Research for Equity. The district also began providing opportunities for staff of color to meet and discuss equity leadership. Teams continued to attend the annual National Summit for Courageous Conversations, including presenting information about the district's work toward its equity goal. In addition, several members of the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence staff participated in the National Summit. The Club offers before- and after-school programs in the Lawrence Public Schools.

    In 2014-15, the district developed a Staff of Color (STOC) support group and continued to build racial equity leadership capacity among staff and students. Focusing on Beyond Diversity training, the district hosted seven of these foundational seminars. From 2009-2015, 1,500 teachers, support staff members, parents, and community partners, including all teachers new to the district, have participated in Beyond Diversity training through Lawrence Public Schools. Beyond Diversity addresses the systemic thinking, proactive utilization of the Courageous Conversation tools and protocol, and the adaptive process needed to effect change.

    Also in 2014-15, the district reached out to community partners to retool its annual educational celebration associated with the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. The ONE DREAM celebration in January now includes cultural presentations and awards recognizing students, teachers, staff, and community leaders for upholding Dr. King's ideals through their own service, personal growth, humility, integrity, courage, citizenship, compassion, perseverance, vision, culturally relevant teaching, and equity leadership.
    For the 2016-17 school year, district equity goals focused on providing professional development for teachers related to culturally relevant teaching, continuing Beyond Diversity training for all district staff, including classified support staff, expanding student equity leadership work, and developing Partnerships for Academically Successful Students (PASS) with school families of students of color and community organizations.
    During the 2017-18 school year, the district invited parents of students of color to serve on the District Equity Leadership Team Advisory. In addition, community members serve on the board's Equity Advisory Council. Each school began reaching out to parents of students of color to form PASS Teams. An LGBTQ+ Advisory Team also met to develop recommendations. Staff developed a culturally relevant rubric to help guide curriculum and instructional resource adoption and to evaluate classroom and supplementary resources. 
    In recent years, the district has partnered with the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center (MAP Center). It provides technical assistance and training to public school districts to promote equitable educational opportunities and work in the areas of civil rights, equity, and school reform. The district also has provided training through GLSEN, which works to ensure that LGBTQ+ students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment.
    In 2018-2019, new Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis led a Listening and Learning Tour, gathering input from the community about the district's strengths and challenges. The district used this community input to develop a five-year strategic plan. An equity focus is threaded throughout all areas of the plan. The district began year-one implementation of the plan in 2019-2020. Read more about the Strategic Plan

    Background Resources
    This multi-phase plan of district improvement guided the district's efforts.