Equity for area public school students was the focus of HCDE’s first-ever “Pulling Together – Equity Symposium” last week coordinated by the Center for Safe and Secure Schools (CSSS) as a continuation of efforts in Houston and Harris County to address implicit bias in school discipline.
Six local and national experts on equity and unconscious biases held sessions during the symposium. They led over 160 virtual attendees in discussions about how to maintain high expectations for students of color; develop, implement, and deal with the pitfalls of implementing equity policies; bolster awareness of implicit biases; rethink school culture and decriminalize school discipline, and move forward with restorative practices.
“We know that implicit biases contribute to the inequitable outcomes that exist in our school districts,” said Cierra Nickerson, Climate and Culture Specialist for the CSSS, who led the event. “We have to do the work [inside ourselves] before we do the work [with our students]. The more we are aware of our own biases, the better we’re able to look at school policies and see what needs to change in order to serve students better. Equity is a blanket that covers the entire school community, and we have to eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
These experts were key players in Houston’s Citywide Implicit Bias Effort for School Discipline Reform, a series of workgroup sessions to develop actionable policy and practice recommendations for school discipline reform. Nine recommendations were presented to area school districts on what they should do to continue working towards equitable school environments, which are often influenced by external factors.
“Our teachers and students were impacted by last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests when we had all of these different racially-driven society issues that were taking place in our country,” said Nickerson. “When things happen in society, it directly impacts what happens inside of our school buildings. We have to address it in our schools as well to make sure we are supporting our community and their social and emotional needs.”
Among the speakers were Dr. Bryant Marks, the Founder and Chief Equity Officer of the National Training Institute on Race and Equity, a key player in the Obama Administration’s development of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) and 21st Century Policing programs; Paul Forbes, the Executive Director of Educational Equity in the Anti-Bias and Diversity in the Office of Equity & Access for the New York City Department of Education; and Dr. LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD Superintendent.
As with other HCDE events, which have transitioned to a virtual setting, the symposium offered educators from across the county the opportunity to participate. School leaders and educators from as close as Houston ISD and Katy ISD and as far away as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York attended.
The CSSS will continue addressing implicit bias in school settings this summer when it hosts a three-day equity boot camp on school discipline.