Acknowledging a Crisis

Type: Article
Topics: Communications & Public Relations, Equity, School Administrator Magazine

April 01, 2022

The new, creative structures and routines that have worked during the pandemic deserve to endure in the fight against racial inequities.
Decoteau Irby
Decoteau Irby, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of Stuck Improving: Racial Equity and School Leadership (Harvard Education Press, 2022).

In Milwaukee Public Schools, the push to expose people to leadership for equity started in earnest in 2016. At the time, Latish Reed, Milwaukee’s professional development manager and an adjunct professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was the district’s first equity specialist. She developed the district’s equity policy and implementation procedures and revised its non-discrimination policy to be gender inclusive.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, she has seen more equity leadership in action than ever before. “In the five or so years before the pandemic hit, it was about understanding and learning,” she says. “We did a lot of trainings. The pandemic ripped the Band-Aid off and shifted us into practicing equity.”

Paying closer attention to students’ experiences and considering the people behind the numbers has been important to the district’s efforts.

“It’s about responding to people’s conditions,” Reed says. “Saying our district has a large number of free-and-reduced-price lunch-eligible students is different than acknowledging that families don’t have a way to get meals. When schools closed, we served families. … I witnessed a spirit and practice of compassion toward children and families that exceeded compliance.”

She adds: “Before the pandemic, it was a lot of debate in our district. People said things like ‘we can’t let students take home our technology. The equipment is going to get messed up.’ Some people said this or that couldn’t be done. Or that it shouldn’t be done. Well, we immediately put plans into place to ensure students had a device to learn at home.”

How might education leaders ensure the many things that people have said couldn’t or shouldn’t be done in the name of racial equity persist beyond the pandemic?

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Decoteau Irby

Associate professor in the department of educational policy studies

University of Illinois at Chicago

About the Author

Decoteau Irby is author of Stuck Improving: Racial Equity and School Leadership (Harvard Education Press).