Opinion | Susan Knopf: Equity work requires grassroots effort
For the Record
Reading the Summit Daily article about administrators’ contracts cast a dark cloud over the equity work the school district says it wants to do.
Have you ever heard, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?”
Equity work is a lot like that horse. You can lead the community to the work, but if you aren’t engaging the community authentically, the only place the equity work will take place is in a silo in the school. If you aren’t leading an authentic grassroots community effort, your equity work will not have real substantive impact.
You see this in the much-lauded program Seeds of Peace, which places Jewish and Palestinian teens together. The goal is to achieve peaceful coexistence through mutual understanding and respect. First, they thought the program’s long-term impact was diminished because there was no follow-up after immersion. Then they realized kids aren’t decision-makers, and they can’t shape their communities. By the time they have that power, many find they must conform to the norms of their communities out of necessity for survival.
If you want to make a real impact, a sea change, you must include families and decision-makers.
For the record, I am all for equity work. My personal work and nonprofit efforts focus on the same goals. I am the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council development chair working on creating more cross-cultural programming. One current initiative is developing a language program in which Americans meet and converse with people from other communities who want to improve their English, and Americans work to develop their language skills in another tongue.
We also sit down together (or Zoom together this past year) and talk and eat with diverse people at the People’s Supper. The Interfaith Council also sponsors a White Ally course to help local leaders develop increased understanding and personal tools to engage our larger, more diverse community. The people who participate in these programs help to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs.
This work isn’t done in a silo. This work requires community connection and commitment.
This work is done with people of diverse communities. It’s messy. You make mistakes. You have to clean those up. You must ask for forgiveness. And you must be open to new ideas, ideas which disrupt your longstanding worldview.
Our community has expressed, in my humble opinion, unrealistic and unrealized fears that their students will be shortchanged by increased emphasis (spending) on programs focusing on those needing additional help.
I think real and imagined concerns can be addressed by authentically engaging community members.
The real measure of the effectiveness of the Summit School District’s equity efforts will be measured by those in the program. With all due respect, the district superintendent and administrators of the equity program are not the best judges of whether their program works. The community is.
If you talk to anyone who does business with the school district, they are in a silo. When you try to work around the silo, or break the walls of the silo, you get heavy-handed consequences.
I’m feeling nostalgic. Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” He was talking about the Berlin Wall. We’re talking about the school district’s wall. Tear down this wall!
Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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