Many Miles to go on the Equity Journey
The day Matthew Utterback was named AASA’s 2017 National Superintendent of the Year, he said, “I don’t think there is anything more important in our work than to honor a student’s history, culture and identity, and affirm who they are in our public school systems.”
Equity is a key issue for Utterback, the superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District. That was the topic of conversation when he appeared on Education Talk Radio earlier this week.
“It’s really been a wonderful opportunity for us to share some of the good work that’s been happening in our school district for the last four or five years,” said Utterback, who leads a district comprised of 17,000 students. “A really concentrated effort on equity which we’re finding has had pretty dramatic influence on improving student achievement.”
Accompanying Utterback on the program was Bryan Joffe, AASA’s project director for the organization’s Children’s Programs Department.
“Equity is really about all ensuring that all children have great access to a quality education,” said Joffe. “It’s really trying to change what we have in this country—that demographics is a (constant) predictor of student success. That has to change.”
At North Clackamas Schools, Utterback said 33 percent of the student population are students of color, with 40 percent on free and reduced lunch. “Our staff has remained traditionally White. There is a disconnect for many of our students. They don’t see themselves reflected in the curriculum and they don’t see themselves on our staff. Given that, how do we, as a school system, respond to that disconnect. That has been our focus in North Clackamas.”
Utterback added, “Our job then as educators is how do we bring in the culture, history, experiences of our students into our school system? How do we affirm students for who they are and what they’re bringing to us? How does that reflect into our curriculum and how does that reflect itself into our teaching strategies and our practices?”
Joffe affirmed that through various initiatives administered by AASA’s Children’s Programs, the work to address these critical issues is underway. These initiatives include School Breakfast, School Discipline and Coordinated School Health.
“It shouldn’t be the district (with high concentrations of) poverty also has low achievement,” he said. “It’s all about trying to give children an equal and fair chance.”
Although great strides are underway at North Clackamas Schools, Utterback said much more work needs to be done. “We still have many miles to go in this journey.”
Asked about being named the 2017 National Superintendent of the Year, Utterback said it’s an “amazing opportunity to share our stories in our work. We do have a story to share. I’m excited to represent AASA and superintendents across the country and bring to life the amazing work that public schools bring to this country every day.”
Click here to listen to the program.