Our focus on racial equity

November 2, 2012: Yesterday, the Portland Tribune published 3 related articles about our school district’s focus on racial equity. This coverage offers all of us an opportunity to widen and deepen our conversations on equity with each other and the broader community.

At Portland Public Schools, our goal is to increase student learning for every student. Racial equity is a critical component of our district’s strategies and school board policies for a basic and essential reason: To get better results in our schools, we need to close the persistent and unacceptable opportunity gap between white students and students of color.

As educators, we must own the fact that we have not served our students of color as well as we have served white students. Yet, we can change these results. That means increasing achievement for all students – whether they are White, Black, Latino, Native, Asian or Multi-racial – while we accelerate gains for students of color at the same time.

We know that this work is complex and often uncomfortable. In Portland, we are working to overcome achievement disparities and racial inequities that challenge every large school district in the nation.

Many of our teachers, principals, custodians, bus drivers and central office staff have engaged in ‘Courageous Conversations about Race’ trainings. I appreciate the way that PPS teachers and staff are personally grappling with how our attitudes and beliefs affect our students, so we can better support them. The school board and I are committed to applying a lens of equity to our work as well.

We also know that it is working. We are seeing better results for students. Graduation rates, early literacy and other key academic measures are not where we want them to be, but they are improving, and the achievement gap is narrowing. We need to sustain and accelerate our progress.

Nearly half of our students are students of color. The changing demographics of our student population represent the future of our community. That is why Portland’s ability to thrive and compete depends on our success in educating every student well.

We want every student to feel welcomed, and supported in his or her learning inside and outside school. To do this, we need to continue to work together, and with families and community partners, to recognize and respond to the needs of all students. They are counting on us to stay engaged, reflect on our practices, hear their voices and honor their perspectives.

I wish to thank PPS teachers and staff for their personal work toward racial equity, for continuing to support their colleagues in their work and for everything they do on behalf of our students and families. I also wish to thank the community for your ongoing support of your students and schools.

Carole Smith