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Program breaks down barriers

The Dayton Daily News


By Maya Dorsey

Montgomery County educators have worked together for three years to implement equity-aligned practices and policies that reduce barriers to student success and improve learning outcomes for all students. The Equity Fellows program, led by Learn to Earn Dayton in partnership with the Montgomery County Educational Service Center (MCESC), is a firstof-its-kind initiative that works with school leaders. The program uses data-driven approaches, culturally responsive teaching practices and action-based plans to improve student success outcomes, particularly for Black students and students experiencing poverty. The disparity in academic outcomes is closely related to the fact that students from underserved communities lack access to the support systems and opportunities they need to reach their full potential. Too often, Black and brown children in our community don’t get an equitable chance at success. Our work involves ensuring that all students, regardless of their race, geographic location or socio-economic background, have access to the best possible educational opportunities.


More than 100 educators, including teachers, principals and counselors, from Northmont City Schools, Kettering City Schools, Dayton Public Schools, Dayton Early College Academy and Trotwood-Madison City Schools currently participate in Equity Fellows.


When asked about their experiences, Equity Fellows said the work allowed them to have compassionate and ongoing conversations in safe spaces. Many participants also said the program helped them address their unconscious biases – however unintentional – and examine the root causes of disparities.


“I’ve never experienced such a safe, knowledge-based type of a program,” said Amy Anyanwu, MCESC assistant superintendent.


“The work is ongoing and focuses first on deep internal understanding and then on systemic changes. We already see real changes take place.”


Northmont High School educators are completing their third year of Equity Fellows. They reduced the number of Black students receiving discipline referrals by intensifying parent engagement efforts, adding mentoring programs and providing professional development for teachers to improve student behavior. As a result, student discipline referrals for Black students went down by more than 20% from the 2018- 2019 to the 2019-2020 academic years.


In another example, Northmont Middle School increased opportunities for Black students to transition to eighth-grade Algebra by eliminating subjective assessments and intentionally creating equity-aligned student evaluations.


As a result of this change, Northmont educators anticipate an overall increase in the number of Black students enrolling in eighth-grade Algebra.


“This work is a life-long learning process, and I am impressed by our staff’s commitment to continue learning,” said Dan VonHandorf, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Kettering City Schools, which is in its first year of Equity Fellows participation.


“The program aligns with our strategic goal of growing the whole person. The feedback from our staff indicates this training is giving them both skills and perspective to help address issues concerning equity.”


Other student success outcomes that school districts have identified include improvements in the number of students completing financial aid forms, students of color entering gifted programs and student attendance.


Focusing on equity-aligned approaches in our education system is critical for students, families, and educators to recover from COVID-19-related learning disruptions. While we are making strides, we have much more work to do so that all children have what they need to learn, grow and thrive.


Maya Dorsey is the director of equity and collaborative impact at Learn to Earn Dayton.