(Photo courtesy of KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools)
As COVID-19 continues to shape the 2020-2021 school year, educators, school leaders and families alike are grappling with new approaches for providing a quality education for students. For KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools (KMAS), this crisis has meant shifting operations from KMAS’ brick and mortar schools and transitioning to virtual classroom experiences for more than 5,000 students across metro Atlanta. Yet, even as KMAS continues to rethink academic instruction for a virtual setting, KMAS remains committed to moving forward with a plan to advance racial equity across its schools over the next five years.
KMAS’s plan is extensive; complete with newly designed curricula, racial equity trainings for all staff and Board members, and auditing processes for school procedures. And these tactics call for more than a simple nod from KMAS’ leadership, requiring considerable commitments in time, effort and financial cost. But to KMAS, this plan to advance racial equity is a long-term investment not just in their schools, but in dismantling structural racism across Atlanta.
To get a deeper look at their five-year plan, I spoke with KMAS about the goals and tactics central to their process and unpacked the decision to prioritize a comprehensive commitment to racial equity during a global pandemic.
KIPP Metro Atlanta has identified two priorities for this work: 1) Embody racial equity by examining policies, practices and results to disrupt inequity and 2) Embody racial equity throughout all parts of the organization and community. What are three ways you are addressing these priorities in the coming year?
When KIPP Metro Atlanta was established in 2003, our founders envisioned a school that would transform the lives of Black and Brown children across the city. Now, as the largest charter school network in Georgia, we have ensured that our workforce of educators and administrators reflects the student body we serve—99% of our students are Black, while 85% of our educators and 95% of our school leaders are Black, as well.
An equitable school system, however, expands beyond just staff representation, and we are committed to our students receiving an education that is identity-affirming and provides them the opportunity to determine their own futures despite the systemic racism that roots our society.
As you mention, we aim to achieve these goals through embodying racial equity in our policies, practices and results, as well as embodying racial equity through all parts of our organization and community. We are doing this through:
- Designing our curricula and policies by looking at the margins of our community, rather than the most privileged. To do this, we are engaging multiple stakeholders including, students, families, staff, alumni and community members.
- Training all of our staff and board in equity, identity and racial equity.
- Creating equitable practices and procedures that can be measured and audited. We are focusing on how to return to in-person learning, grading assessment and special education, among other things.
What key concepts are your staff and Board covering in their training on equity, identity and racial equity?
Our leaders are learning that racial justice is a conscious act, an individual and institutional responsibility. This includes the examination and enforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions to promote equitable opportunities, and treatment for people of all races, such as:
- Affirming our students’ and staff’s rights to activism and civic engagement;
- Acknowledging white privilege and committing to anti-racist actions; and
- Centering joy and safety as fundamental ingredients of the educational experience.
During this difficult economic period, many school systems are experiencing cuts to their 2020-2021 budgets. Why is your school system prioritizing funding for racial equity initiatives?
First, for us, equity is not just a priority—it is the very core of our education.
While many organizations are focusing on the short-term impact of the pandemic, we remain committed to tackling the generations-long structural racism our students are up against, and will continue to face, after this pandemic subsides.
Every child deserves a high-quality, empowering education that will allow them to pursue their passions in life. Unfortunately, in this country, the same racism that shapes our housing laws, employment practices and resource allocation also shapes our public school systems. It is our duty to do all that we can to push back against the injustices sustained by racism, such as poverty, and help our students live a choice-filled life.
Rachel Sacks is a Communications Associate at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.