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Creating More Equitable School Systems Starts with Supporting Diverse Leaders

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Education leaders are looking towards all kinds of innovative solutions to ensure students have access to quality schools.

We have covered everything from strengths-based learning curriculums to greater access to school choice to more opportunities to incorporate the arts, science, and technology.

And while many great ideas have been debated and pursued, I place my bets on increasing diversity and eliminating inequality across the spectrum of school options. We know this work matters if we are to create solutions that serve all children in an increasingly diverse country. And we know that this work requires leadership at every level in order to cultivate the type of inclusive communities necessary for diversity and innovation to take root.

It’s one of many reasons why we at the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition launched UnifiED, our two-track leadership program that’s specifically focused on developing leaders with a diversity and inclusion lens. UnifiED Explore is open to any aspiring leader interested in learning what it takes to launch a diverse by design charter school. The next Explore series is in New Orleans, January 31 — February 1, 2019, during DCSC’s 5th Anniversary Convening. Registration is $150 and limited scholarships of up to $500 are available. The priority deadline for scholarship applications is December 15, 2018.

UnifiED Fellowship is a full-time, 12-month, paid fellowship. Fellows are selected via a multi-step application process and matched to a Coalition host school site for their residency.

Helping Fellows launch the next wave of excellent, diverse by design charter schools is work that I deeply believe in, and I am proud to see how it has taken off. This year, UnifiED’s four fellows are preparing to launch schools in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Denver, and Kansas City. Fellows undertake training that is coordinated for each person’s individualized learning, exposing them to exemplary models, providing access to experts and resources, and placing them in full-time, tailored residencies at Coalition-member schools. Our goal is to equip entrepreneurial leaders with a deep understanding of top-notch models as they each prepare to launch their own excellent, integrated schools by 2020.

We need to empower more leaders to move farther on their equity journeys and launch high-quality, integrated schools. The recent report by The Century Foundation highlights schools in our education sector promoting diversity. These diverse by design public charter schools provide a variety of models and strategies for integration that could help other schools — charter, district, or magnet — seeking to enroll and serve diverse groups of students. Four deep dives profiling the practices of intentionally diverse schools provide insights into some of these strategies.

Intentionally diverse schools are a growing part of the education system but remain a small fraction of the charter school sector broadly. While there are many policies and practices schools can pursue to advance DEI in a way that is right for them, there are a few common attributes for success that any school can implement today. In their work to launch new schools and redesign existing schools, NewSchools Venture Fund has found that many schools share some these attributes.

First, schools that embrace an expanded definition of student success help students develop a strong academic foundation and other essential mindsets. Such schools empower students with the habits and skills necessary for long-term success, are committed to equity, and hold high expectations for all. Together, these actions ensure learning outcomes are not predicated on race or ethnicity, income, gender, or geography.

With an expanded definition of student success, students feel ownership over their learning and are more motivated to succeed. Students are empowered to set short- and long-term learning goals and — with help from their teachers — create plans for how they might reach them.

Next, schools with high levels of inclusive communities optimize time, pace, instructional methods, and outside experiences. This personalizes and enriches student learning and ensures teachers’ time and expertise is spent where it matters most.

We can never underestimate the importance of peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher relationships, either. In these schools, students have the opportunity to build deep, trusting, sustained relationships with each other and their teachers, allowing everyone in the classroom to form a deep understanding of themselves and others who have different backgrounds and identities.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive educational community are innumerable. When we prepare our students with the cultural competencies they need to navigate an increasingly diverse country and a more globally connected world, we are preparing them for lifelong success. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group shows that there is a direct correlation between diversity and innovation revenue and financial performance in the workforce.

The research is clear that creating diverse and equitable school systems is an important piece of education reform. The only question that remains is how we choose to implement it and how quickly we can start working together towards it.

Hopefully, UnifiED offers one answer to this all important question.

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