New Hanover Schools Equity Summit

by Blog

What makes an equity team?

Did you know that New Hanover County Schools has created student equity teams? At our middle and high schools, students were selected/nominated by the school administration to be members of student equity teams with the purpose of working together to provide solutions to inequitable issues in our school system. The idea of student input and voice came from an initiative from our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, and was reiterated by a third-party consultant (Sophic Solutions) and I can imagine criteria for how to choose students were also discussed. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing, right? So why is this something that all of us should better understand? It is no secret that our society, and by extension our schools, has been faced with dealing with some very divisive topics which have sparked great debate. The creation, goals, and purpose of these student equity teams have not been identified or publicly disclosed, leading to questions about why something so seemingly benign as a student driven initiative focused on solving issues in our schools would not be widely publicized across our school district. The process and criteria used by NHCS student equity team liaisons to identify and nominate or choose students to be on these teams is unknown.

The Cycle

On November 19, 2021 secondary school student equity teams traveled as part of a field trip to the Board of Education center to “join other school teams from our school district and staff from Sophic Solutions to share their activities, plans and goals with each other and collectively create a vision for the work for our Student Equity Teams.” It is clear that parents whose children were chosen to be members of their school’s equity team were asked to sign permission slips allowing their children to participate. Sophic Solutions is a third party vendor hired by Dr. Foust to conduct an equity audit for our school district as well as is contracted with our district to continue to make equitable changes. What is unclear is what types of interactions did these middle school students have directly with staff from Sophic Solutions. Were any formal surveys or questionnaires conducted with these students and what, if any, information was collected and for what purpose(s)? It begs the question why a company specializing in gathering information and providing solutions to what they have identified as inequities in our schools was tasked to complete with children from our middle and high schools. What suggestions or issues and solutions were provided by these hand-picked middle and high school children and what process will our school district use to openly provide this information for discussion and debate among all stakeholders? This event was not identified publicly on any of the various communication platforms used by NHCS and was not an event on the district calendar.

Transparency is needed

To me, the appearance of modeling equity to make positive change, without actually highlighting it being done, makes me question why it was conducted in this manner? Transparency is sorely needed in our district. Parents are typically honored that their children would be selected by their schools to participate in county wide endeavors. Transparency is needed moving forward with district goals and school implementation. Would it surprise you to know that some of the ideas these students discussed were heavily focused on race and the LGBTQ+ community? Our society has seen a shift to focus on creating change based mostly on race and not on identifying root causes of any real or perceived inequities, which can be a dangerous operational model for our schools. Schools should be focused on positive academic outcomes and identifying any shortfalls that may exist and why they exist. Instead, our conversations have shifted towards creating “equitable changes”, but the idea of seemingly positive changes and the reality of how we as a district are “accomplishing” those goals are done in a way that has been to lower standards and expectations. We need transparency and a clearly defined goal, rather than a loose idea of what “positive change” looks like for our district. As a community we should all want that, which is why it hasn’t been challenged in the first place.

Follow through

New Hanover County Schools need to clearly define what “equity” means and ensure “equity” is not freely substituted to mean “equality”, and the processes that drive their decision making. Changing policies, lowering standards of academics, lowering behavior standards and the burden being placed all on the teachers’ shoulders is NOT a reasonable solution. Our teachers need to be supported, and in turn, support our children in reaching their full potential, and not merely by “checking the right boxes”. Our community needs to step in and work TOGETHER for OUR kids to achieve greatness. The level of support each school needs will be different, but the district’s job is to provide the resources needed to each school to be successful. It is okay that the resources look different at each school, as long as our kids are achieving what they need to academically.

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