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Defining Equity & Equality in Our Vision to Prepare All Learners

It’s hard to believe, but this is the second spring that we’ve approached the end of a school year while in a pandemic. Over the last 12 months, we have learned a lot and have shared many times about the personalization and efficiencies we have realized that will continue to impact our instruction long after the pandemic is over. With the pandemic consuming so much energy and attention, we haven’t shared as much about how political unrest and the death of George Floyd also impacted our district, specifically how we interact with one another across our community, state, and country. It’s an important conversation worth discussing.

These events have provided me with the opportunity to really dig in and reflect on our vision statement:

“West Fargo Public Schools prepares all learners with the knowledge and skills to be compassionate, contributing citizens in a rapidly changing world. We are dedicated to continuous improvement, engaging every student to become problem solvers and lifelong learners. Excellence is achieved through practices based in research, and by aligning all resources to support learning.”

What does it mean to prepare ALL learners? What does it mean to engage EVERY student? I began to have my doubts that even though we have made tremendous strides in providing a great education for so many students, when we look at student achievement data (especially amongst various racial groups), we have not yet achieved our ambitious goal of preparing ALL students for tomorrow’s world.

The first step was admitting there is room to improve. I began to read, listen to podcasts, and ask questions. I wasn’t the only one; administrators and teachers across the district were asking tough questions, and they too longed to learn more. Many of them took it upon themselves to develop book studies or enroll in classes, pushing themselves to answer the question, “how do we best serve all kids?” Leaders took a hard look at the culture and climate in their buildings, and district coordinators enhanced social emotional practices. The work at one school would catch on at another school, and the energy around this work grew almost as contagious as COVID-19.

Exciting as this was, the work was not systemic nor was it guaranteed to benefit all students. We needed to address equity, a loaded word, as a system, which meant we needed to think differently. The Equity & Inclusion Task Force held its first meeting on March 23. The charge of the task force is to explore every aspect of the district including policy, communications, instruction, professional development, food service, human resources, transportation, facilities, etc. to ensure that processes, procedures, and practices fairly reach ALL students. The task force has 72 members including students, parents/guardians, staff, and community members representing a variety of backgrounds and identities. The lift is heavy, and the work will continue for the next year and a half, but our students are worth the effort. All means all.

A common stumbling block for these conversations is regarding the definition of equity. For many people, equity and equality are used synonymously, and they are not the same. Equality is providing the same level of opportunity and assistance to all groups (like race and gender) of the system. Equity is providing various levels of support and assistance depending on specific needs or abilities. In a nutshell, equity is fair and fair is not always equal. We must provide students with what they need to achieve the vison and mission of our district, and it’s not the same for every student. Just like how teachers currently provide different types of support and direction to students in their classroom, providing equitable instruction to students does not mean some students need to get “less” so others get “more.” This is why the district is moving towards personalized learning; one size does not fit all. All students benefit from an equitable system, regardless of their background or identity.

There are so many things that we have no control over, but we have more control than we think, and we can make the world a better place by working together. It is this realization that gives me energy, hope, and joy for the future. West Fargo Public Schools is committed to treating ALL students and staff with respect and kindness, regardless of politics, background, or identity. With this commitment, everyone wins.

Superintendent Slette
(701) 356-2000