Written by Kevin Rose, AP at Nashville Prep
When I started teaching seven years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, a friend sent me an article in The Atlantic magazine that claimed schools are more segregated today than during the late 1960’s. I remember thinking that can’t be right – how are schools in America more segregated in 2013 than they were in the 1960s? You’re telling me we haven’t made any progress in desegregating schools in the last 50 years?
I taught and coached for the next five years in Montgomery and Detroit at schools that highlighted the dramatic racial segregation the article discussed. Every week for five years I had a staff meeting or professional development. We talked about how to analyze standardized assessment data, how to incorporate different instructional strategies into our lesson plans, and how to more effectively manage our classrooms. But we never talked about racism, stereotypes, and implicit bias and they ways those forces can manifest in a classroom. We never talked about the school to prison pipeline or thought about the way our discipline systems worked with or against it. We never discussed the role that history and structural and systemic oppression impacted the communities we served and the students sitting in the desks in front of us.
And that’s why I decided to join the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Coalition at RePublic Schools when I moved to Nashville last year. Do educators need ongoing professional development around data driven instruction and differentiation? Yes. Do educators also need ongoing professional and personal development and reflection around racism, bias, and culturally relevant pedagogy? Absolutely. I joined RePublic because I wanted to work for an organization that was going to reimagine public education in the South. To me that means doing things differently than they’ve been done in the past. And in schools I think doing things differently has to mean talking about the way race, class, gender, and other identity markers impact our relationships, school teams, and classrooms.
As a white man of every privilege imaginable, I think it’s even more important for me to engage in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To acknowledge my own privilege, reflect on my practice, listen to others, to learn and grow. I’m grateful for the DEI Coalition and its amazing members both as a place that pushes my thinking and perspective, and provides the space for me to call other white people into the work. Teaching at a middle school means long days and I usually walk into DEI Coalition meetings after school feeling tired from a day in front of kids and teachers, but I always walk out of DEI Coalition meetings feeling energized and strengthened after hearing from people like Diana Anosike and Kimberlee McQueen. But it’s about more than just feeling energized. The DEI Coalition has already made a difference at RePublic.
The Coalition was founded last year and is made up of a group of teachers, school leaders, and members of our charter management office from our seven schools in Nashville and Jackson. Last school year the Coalition created a mission statement, set a vision for the group, and proposed a major initiative for the upcoming school year. Because of the work of the DEI Coalition, RePublic Schools is currently in the process of identifying new organizational values with the input of scholars, families, and teachers. It’s an initiative that will impact over 3,100 scholars and their families.
I am so grateful to work with an organization that values DEI. I’m grateful for a senior management team and CEO at RePublic that participates in DEI meetings as members and then supports the coalition’s recommendations. I’m grateful to work alongside teachers and leaders that show up every day to fight for our kids and then stay after school to talk about the ways diversity, equity, and inclusion impact our work. Talking about these issues is a good start. Involving parents and families in creating our organizational values is an even better start. But it’s also not enough. It’s not reimagining public education in the South. Not yet. So I’m also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a coalition that will continue to push for more. More for teachers. More for families. And more for all of our kids.