Atlanta Public Schools’ commitment to creating a more equitable learning environment was recognized at the Council of the Great City Schools’ (CGCS) Curriculum, Research and Instructional Leaders meeting in Portland, Oregon, where APS’ Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer (CESJ), Dr. Tauheedah Baker-Jones, received the first-ever “Championing Equity” Urban School District Equity Leader Award.
“This award is the result of a team effort,” Dr. Baker-Jones said. “It’s a recognition of the collective work and effort of my team in the APS CESJ and a whole host of stakeholders, internal and external, that support this work. My team remains passionate and proud of the work we have done and are doing, to advance educational equity in the district.”
The CESJ functions as the “medical center” for APS. By looking at challenges through an equity lens and evaluating data to determine root causes, an equity office can recommend remedies to teachers, staff, and district leaders for correcting the issues that create inequities.
“Equity work is about disrupting our patterns of working, particularly those that are having an adverse impact on select populations of students.” Dr. Baker-Jones said. “It’s about understanding the ways in which we self-protect and recognizing that if we truly want our beliefs to align with our actions, we must be transparent and widely share our successes, strengths, failures, and growth edges.”
At the APS 2023 Summer Leadership Retreat, the CESJ office rolled out versions of its Opportunity, Tangibles, Intangibles and Systems (OTIS) equity indexes to measure how the district, and our schools, are advancing equity within the district.
OTIS looks at neighborhood factors, like access to a public library or grocery store within a ¼ mile radius of a school, for example. These things are known to have a positive impact on student outcomes.
“It really is a way for the district to be able to track and monitor their progress towards the 11 equity commitments,” Monique O’Bryant, APS’ Director of Research and Evaluation, said. “It’s at the district level as well as down to the school level where they can look at the equity data and really make decisions based on it and find areas to really focus on for the upcoming school year.”
The Research and Evaluation team discovered notable differences in access to advanced coursework across the different APS clusters and schools after collaborating with the CESJ to identify tangible data.
“Having the office that’s really focused on the 11 equity commitments has really leveraged and allowed the district to have that space and have a team that can really help with spearheading and getting those conversations started,” O’Bryant said. “The work that they’ve done has positioned us in a better place to really make sure that the data that we’re putting out that it allows people to be able to look across a variety of different sub-groups and making sure that we’re always thinking about equity in the forefront of our work.”
The CESJ office’s work with the Research and Evaluation team represents just the beginning of how they impact APS. Another exciting initiative they hope to launch this school year is the Leading Equitable Schools Program, which supports leaders improving systems by, with, and for every student, to ensure that every student has a learning environment that makes them feel rigorously engaged, wholeheartedly welcomed, and individually affirmed.
The impact of the CESJ can also be felt at the school level. The strategies and recommendations they provide have a tangible effect on how administrators make decisions and how teachers handle a variety of situations with students.
“This organization has been very instrumental in helping my entire team see the whole-child, as opposed to just focusing in on the content areas,” Fickett Elementary School Principal Benita Grant said. “The equity office has given us a different focus.”
“It’s not about being the best math student. It’s about being your best self. It’s about the adults around you helping you to be your best self by taking on those challenges and making sure that equity is at the forefront,” she added. “You can’t be your best self if you don’t have what you need, and you can’t be your best self if people don’t value what you believe and who you are as a person.”
A comprehensive list of the work CESJ has accomplished at APS since its inception can be found in the latest issue of our “Equity at the Forefront” magazine.
“No one person or office can do the work of equity alone. Achieving equity across our district requires attention from every member of our staff, schools, and communities,” Dr. Baker-Jones said. “My team and I in the CESJ remain committed to partnering with our collective group of stakeholders to create greater equity in the Atlanta Public Schools and to work toward ensuring that every single one of our students thrives — not by accident, but by design.”