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Local educators look to share ways to make schools more equitable

St. Louis Public Schools

(Updated Fri., Feb. 20) Angel Matthews decided to leave the Riverview Gardens School District after her cousin, who graduated from the district’s high school, had trouble enrolling in college.

“She was told her diploma didn’t mean anything because it wasn’t accredited,” Mathews said. “So she had to get her GED to go to the school she wanted to go to. I decided I’d rather go to an accredited school and take advantage of the opportunities they have.”

Matthews transferred to Kirkwood. She shared her story, as part of a youth panel, at a two-day conference  on educational equity. The transition has not been easy, she said, noting she feels comfortable learning at her new school but she’s still socially uneasy.

Stanley Johnson, dean of students at Confluence Academy Old North, said hearing from students like Matthews is essential for change.

“One of the things I want to take back to our campus is to get our students’ input and get them more involved in their education, because we forget that these kids are the ones who are actually living our decisions,” Johnson said.

The conference showcased how different districts are dealing with issues of equity.

Shavon Robinson is a second-grade teacher at Tillman Elementary in the Kirkwood School District. She said what made the conference valuable was the sharing of resources between districts.

“Lots of school districts here, they want to make the change and they want to know how to do it,” Robinson said. “And that’s been the most positive thing to see — that it’s not just our district. Those other districts are having this trouble.” She said she hopes the isolation does not continue “to happen over the next five or 10 years, but there is a solution that happens.”

Part of the solution is action plans, Robinson says. She says her district plans to form a collective group to figure out how they can take issues of inequity beyond professional development and make addressing it part of the schools’ mission across the board.

Read our earlier story below:

Representatives from 10 area school districts will join students and other members of the community tomorrow for a two-day conference geared toward making St. Louis area schools more equitable.

The event, to be held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Thursday and Friday, was put together by the Midwest Equity Assistance Center in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Even if we have all the laws in the world that say, ‘you need this, you need that’ … Unless (equity) is in the hearts and minds of people to really want to educate all students I don’t really know how far we’ll get,” said April Warren-Grice, the center's coordinator for professional development. “We’ll make some gains, but I think it will still be missing something.”

Warren-Grice spent time with educators across the region this past fall to get a sense of what common issues school leaders and teachers face. 

“I found a lot of the school districts leaders were talking about these things in silos,” she said.  

For instance, many districts struggle to increase the number of African-American and female students taking advanced placement courses. But even if a school successfully diversifies its AP classes, that knowledge often isn't shared across district boundaries. Based on her conversations with school leaders, Warren-Grice identified four broad areas of concern that the conference will look at.     

  • Increasing the number of minority educators
  • Teaching diverse students
  • Increasing parental involvement
  • Increasing student leadership

The hope, said Warren-Grice, is that educators, students and community members will walk away with practical strategies and relationships to help them address these issues in their classrooms.  
“We all have part of the answer,” Warren-Grice said.  

The Kansas State University-based center works with schools in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska and is one of 10 federally funded centers across the country established to help schools become more equitable in terms of race, gender and national origin.  Go here for more information about the conference.

Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.

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