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An Investment in Equity Is an Investment in Positive Student Outcomes

An Investment in Equity Is an Investment in Positive Student Outcomes

School Districts  |  Equity  |  Innovative Leadership  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

Did you know that New York State has nearly 800 public school districts? (Source: nysed.gov). This ranks New York in the top 10 states with the highest number of school districts per state (Source: nces.ed.gov). Within those districts exist some of the largest and smallest in the country. In a small village between the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains, Ellenville Central School District (CSD) serves 1,475 students in seven different communities. On the drive to Ellenville, you will face highways that bleed into long, windy roads, and just before you approach the village, seemingly out of nowhere, you will be greeted with a beautiful view of a mountain in which Ellenville sits at the base of. When you talk to an Ellenville Blue Devil, there is no shortage of pride and love for their sprawling community. This district is committed to its students and bettering itself to create more equitable outcomes. 

Passion for an Equitable School Culture

Being a small school district has its pros and cons. A small school district creates a tight-knit community amongst students, teachers, and families. However, one challenge it presents is the lack of time for leaders to come together to plan and learn. Despite this, Ellenville leaders have repeatedly made shared learning a priority. Come to Ellenville CSD on a random night in October, and you will find their leaders gathered around tables in the district’s library focused on how to individually and collectively better themselves in support of their teachers and students. This dedication has proven to be a good investment for Ellenville and is rooted in their district’s mission, vision, and goals. One of their goals includes that the district aims to “foster and maintain a school culture that embraces diversity, inclusivity, and equity in our schools.”

Equity is a choice that individuals and collective communities make to put students’ individual and unique needs above all else. However, this requires that the adults leading schools or districts engage in constant self-examination and learning. One of the indicators of a school or district’s success is having a positive adult culture (Learning Forward, February 2021), and engaging in shared learning is an excellent way to build this. Adult culture impacts a student’s experience and their academic outcomes. This is why building a dedicated space for the adult leaders in your building to connect and build relationships with one another through a consistent learning experience is so important.

Leaders Learning About Equity

The leaders of Ellenville pride themselves on serving students by improving their practice, which is why they are committed to engaging in the Equity Leadership Learning Series (ELLS). They understand that it takes dedicated and undistracted time outside of the school day responsibilities to focus on their learning. When referring to leaders in Ellenville, we refer to district administration, school leaders, coaches, and other staff members who we think of as “leaders of leaders.” These leaders aim to build a positive adult culture by cultivating a consistent structure of learning, reflection, and practice. 

Approximately once a month, they come together for 3 hours in the evening to learn with and from one another. As facilitators of their learning, we have enjoyed hearing them challenge, question, and commemorate each other. When you ask Deputy Superintendent Kelly White why this work is essential to her and her staff, she states, “Effective school leadership requires cultural competence, which involves understanding and respecting the cultural backgrounds, identities, and experience of students and staff.  Equity training helps leaders develop cultural competence and foster positive relationships across diverse communities.” This guiding belief that Mrs. White expresses lays the foundation of why Ellenville’s leadership team has made this work a priority.


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Building Trust & Shared Understanding to Create Alignment

In the ELLS in Ellenville, leaders participated in raw conversations with their colleagues and grappled with complex topics such as institutional racism, intersectionality, maintaining accessible resources, and implicit biases. They began to build a shared understanding of standard definitions and resources while reflecting on their personal awareness of these topics. In doing this, they could dive deeper, engage in vulnerability, build trust amongst each other, and ultimately enhance their interpersonal relationships. The conversations grew in intellect, emotion, and authenticity.

One leader said, “One thing that stands out for me with this work was how it has focused our administrative team to calibrate and streamline our systems of evaluations and to address what we value as individuals and as a unit. Very valuable reflective work.”

It was clear this space was filling a void that hadn’t previously existed and was making this team stronger and more aligned.

What’s Next for Ellenville

As we move into the next phase of this work with the leaders in Ellenville, we look forward to enhancing the work of creating more equitable learning environments for their students. With more practice, reflection, and application to their respective roles in leading adults and students, this learning will not only support these leaders with deepening understanding and scaling their knowledge with their teams, but also support the Personalized Learning work within the school district. Each facet of the work is connected to producing strong outcomes for students.

We serve as partners in this sacred community of adult learners. This dedication to adult processing and communal learning increases the leader’s capacity to empathize, listen, and learn from others. This builds a bridge that leads to more positive student outcomes and a more robust school culture. 


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