While it was a beautiful early fall day, the Boulder Valley School District Education Center was packed with community members on Saturday, September 29, during BVSD’s Fall Equity Summit.
“It says a lot that they gave up four hours of their Saturday, to be here and to engage in a conversation about equity and how to make BVSD a more equitable system,” said BVSD Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services and Equity, Dr. Samantha Messier. “I’m so grateful to have so many members of our community -- including parents, teachers, students and some folks who are just members of the community -- who were here to support us and engage in the conversation about equity.”
The Boulder Valley School District is in the process of creating a District Equity Plan with the goal of ensuring that all of our students have the supports needed to succeed. The work is a significant part of Superintendent Rob Anderson’s 100-Day Plan. On Saturday, he welcomed the more than 130 participants, speaking about accountability and action. He said that it is time that BVSD moves past talk, towards action.
"We talk a lot in our district about excellence and equity. I don't know that you can have excellence without equity" Anderson said.
“I’m really excited about Rob’s excitement around equity,” Messier said. “Everytime I hear him talk about it and every conversation I have with him about it -- it just comes across so strongly that this is a core value for him and that this is something that he is going to make sure that our district pays close attention to.”
The importance of building trustful relationships
This is the second Equity Summit hosted by BVSD. Messier says one of the lessons learned from the first was the need for more time to build relationships amongst the participants.
“[This time] we really invested the first third of the time in building a sense of community within a table group,” Messier said. “You have to create space where people can speak their truth and accept and actually expect that the truth is going to be uncomfortable. We must create a space that honors and allows that.”
“I was really nervous coming here, because I had never done something like this,” explained Karen Meyers, parent of two BVSD students. “I feel really welcomed. Everyone was really listened to. That is the biggest first step of this type of thing.”
“I felt that this was a great, really open process. It was very accommodating of all different viewpoints,” Meyers added.
“It was respectful. It was truthful. There were a lot of good brainstorm ideas that came up out of it. There was a lot of education from other people and other perspectives and the other challenges they have,” said BVSD Parent Karen Zeid.
“It was cool to hear everyone’s perspective and how they felt about equity and diversity and how the schools could get better and what they could change,” said BVSD student Tyler Zeid.
Messier says it was important for each and every participant to have an opportunity to not only speak, but be fully heard.
“Equity is the type of work that you cannot do top down. It has to be a bottom up process, a grassroots process,” Messier explained. ‘Everybody’s story is meaningful, when you start talking about wanting to make a system more equitable.”
Setting clear and measurable goals
The goal of Saturday’s summit was to set clear and measurable goals that can be implemented across the district.
“Really, the question we wanted them to answer by the end of today was ‘what are the measures by which they want us to hold ourselves accountable as a system,’” Messier said. “If you don’t have those measures, you’re not really able to set meaningful targets that are targets where you know that you’ve gotten there.”
Speaking to parents who attended, it sounds like themes are emerging.
“My hope is that we will see some concrete, specific changes around making our school system work better for all kids - not just those who have historically done well, but the kids that have remained invisible,” said BVSD parent Terri Wilson.
“I’m hoping that in the future, and this may be a long-range goal, that every kid will feel just as included as every other kid,” Myers said. “They shouldn’t feel like they are in a special category. Everyone, as an individual, is just as included and accommodated.”
Zeid agreed and added that she hopes that the district will support students’ social emotional development across all schools.
“I hope that each kid can be looked at as an individual. Blanket statements and rules -- do not hold true for all kids. Each kid has their own challenges,” explained Zeid. “The more that the teachers and administrators can know the families and the insight of where a child is coming from, whether they’re adopted, abandoned, abused -- how that important information can be taken to help support that child at a very young age.”
Messier welcomes these ambitious goals.
“It is important for us to set aspirational goals. It is absolutely appropriate for us to set the goal that we are going to close the achievement gap, as a long-term, ambitious goal. We also need short-term benchmarks that show us that we are making progress,” Messier said.
Community - a key component
This won’t be the last opportunity for the community to engage with the district around equity. The feedback gathered at this session and future sessions will be incorporated into upcoming efforts on a new district strategic plan.
“Regular community engagement efforts around equity are going to be critical to keeping our process aligned to the community goals and community values,” Messier said. “This won’t be the last equity summit. We hope to do another one in the spring.”
Additionally, Messier will be looking to develop strong relationships with governmental agencies and community groups that can help make our goals a reality, several of which attended the summit, including the City of Boulder, the University of Colorado and the NAACP.
“That is one of the great things about Boulder Valley and this community. There are a lot of people in this community who are passionate about equity and are just eager to be partners in the work,” Messier said.
Families say they’ll be closely watching the district’s next steps, but are encouraged by the work so far.
“[The Summit] just gave me hope for where the district is going on this particular issue,” Meyers said. “It is a tough issue to tackle and the commitment of the district I think is really obvious and I think that is really inspiring and hopeful.”