If you've got a kid in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) you've likely heard the term “equity” used in the context of your child''s education. It’s the SPS’ state mission to "[ensure] equitable access, [close] the opportunity gaps and [provide] excellent education for every student.”
But what is equity — and specifically, racial equity — and how is SPS implementing changes?
First, a quick definition. According to the Center for Social Inclusion, racial equity is when “race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes.”
A way to achieve it, the Center for Social Inclusion continues, is to create institutional policies and practices that improve the lives of those who are most impacted by structural racial inequity.
Too textbook? Consider the illustration to the right from University of Utah and Harvard University instructor and equity scholar, Dr. Paul Kuttner.
In the illustration on the left, all three people have the same level of support (the box each stands on is the same height). However, each person is standing on a different level of ground. It’s only when enough boxes are added to accommodate that difference that all three people get the same opportunity — in this case, the chance to see the baseball game behind the fence.
What that looks like locally
Of the 103 schools in the district, there are currently 42 SPS Racial Equity Teams with 10 more being added this school year, says Dr. Concepcion Pedroza, the director of leadership development for equity and impact, at SPS.
These groups of SPS staff work together to implement SPS’ stated racial equity team goals on a school-by-school level. Teams receive year-long training and onsite coaching as well as a stipend.
Some schools also have parent-led racial equity teams, often known as EDI committees (for equity, diversity and inclusion); I'm also a member of the one at my son's school.
These parent-led, all-volunteer groups provide community opportunities for families to get to know one another and learn more about equity education. This work can take many forms including:
- Making space for diversity: There are many ways to do this, from facilitating coffee chats or affinity-groups for families of specific communities to supporting families who participate in local demonstrations or movements, like a rally on MLK Day, to writing topical PTA blog posts and newsletter articles (one example: an article that helps parents navigate concerns of cultural appropriation when deciding family Halloween costumes).
- Promoting education and resources: Organizations like Families of Color Seattle offer programs to facilitate parent workshops about combatting racism. EDI committees can initiate discussion groups by distributing media lists for caregivers that address particular equity-related topics.
- Celebrating diversity: Hosting a multicultural gathering and potluck is a great way to recognize and lift up all the cultures in a given school. An EDI committee might also lead an effort to celebrate specific cultural events, like Día de los Muertos, or participate in school-wide solidarity events, such as Black Lives Matter.
- Organizing community service: An EDI committee might set up a food or supply drive for local aid organizations like Mary’s Place or Hunger Intervention Program, or perhaps with the help of the PTA/PTO commit to raising funds for a pre-established goal to support another school.
EDI teams can also be a great resource for schools to be more inclusive by helping secure interpreters for meetings, providing childcare for adult-centered events and advising about implicit bias or subtle discrimination.
What SPS parents have to say
A Seattle Council PTSA board member, Eliza Rankin knows the work of parent equity teams varies. But speaking only as a mom of two SPS students, Rankin says, “Parent groups range in where they are on the spectrum [between] the status quo to real representation of the diversity of their school communities.”
Rankin continues: “White, affluent, abled parents need to be willing to share power and privilege, examine the policies and processes that are barriers to equity and work with members of their communities who have not been represented.”
Of course, that takes focus and on-going dedication because it can be difficult and challenging.
"It takes practice to have conversations about race," says Sarah Rutherford-Bundy, a parent at Adams Elementary and a member of the school's equity committee. "Having an active equity committee is helping to shine a light on the many ways in which we could do better as parents, as a school community, and as a city to address racism, equity and inclusion."
The work is of vital importance, says Marita Grunfeld, parent and co-president of Friends of Hawthorne PTA.
"You don’t get involved because you feel obligated,” Grunfeld says. “You get involved because once you know the impact your efforts make for students and families, you know it matters — it makes a difference.”
Want to learn more?
First, find out if your PTA or school has a Parent Equity/EDI team and see how you can help. Then, consider theses tips from current SPS parent equity team members:
- Don't be satisfied if how it's always been done works "for most people" if most people are always the same people.
- Don't be afraid to make, identify and rectify mistakes.
- Do make sure your equity committee includes people affected by inequity: people of color, families with disability, LGBTQ families, English Language Learning families.
- Do think solidarity, not charity.
- Do connect with your PTA/PTO leadership and ask about equity work.
- Do have conversations with other people like yourself about equity. Try to share things you’ve learned as often as possible to other privileged folks.
- Do facilitate procedural ground rules for meetings that considers who is not there and who has privilege.
- Be persistent, this is challenging but important work.
- Do find a "change champion” in the staff and/or administration.