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Lead With Love, Says Superintendent Trio, in a Courageous Conversation on Equity

TL - Equity and Justice

Every student is entitled to the opportunity to reach his or her potential. Yet, too often, educational outcomes can be predicted based on race or demographics.

Superintendents need to be like the Lorax when dealing with equities and inequities in their school districts, according to Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what is right, even if there are challenges.” he said.

The standing-room only Thought Leader Session on Thursday explored the personal philosophy and advice of three veteran superintendents who champion equity. Joining Joseph on the panel was 2017 National Superintendent of the Year Matthew Utterback of North Clackamas, Ore., School District and Superintendent Sharon Contreras of Guilford County, N.C., Schools. Sharon Adams-Taylor, AASA associate executive director, moderated.

“Equity needs to be a core value in your heart,” Contreras said. She formed equity teams in her district that included everyone — from school administrators and teachers to school bus drivers and food service directors. Team members go through a year-long training and have frank, candid conversations on what’s happening in their schools and classrooms with regards to race, school discipline reform, academic outcomes and graduation rates.

Discussing sensitive issues is difficult, Utterback noted. In his district school administrators need to start to talk about race and racial identity. They need to recognize the implicit biases and how to counter them in the classrooms. The district has examined its curriculum to see whether it reflects the students in his district. The school board has fully supported the focus on equity and has established a policy that helped close achievement gaps.

“We need to honor our student’s history, honor their culture and bring that in our classrooms every single day,” Utterback said.

Joseph, now is in his second year as superintendent in Nashville, recommends that superintendents look for inequities in data on which students are part of the gifted and talented programs.

“All students have giftedness within them, they just need the right teacher to get it out of them,” said Joseph. “Students will rise to the level of expectations that are set for them. “

In closing, each superintendent providing advice for examining race and equity in their district.

“Don’t be afraid,” Joseph said. “Be the Lorax.”

“Lead with love, with your students at the center of your work,” added Utterback.

“Continue to be courageous,” Contreras said. “Continue to teach your students with all your heart. What we do every single day is incredibly important.”

The panel occurred a day after AASA’s Governing Board revised AASA’s mission statement to capture the importance of equity in public education. It can be viewed at

 (Rebecca Shaw is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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