The Adams 14 school district has a new leadership position this year.
It’s one of the results of the reorganization that MGT Consulting has done as it works to improve the district. Jeanette Patterson was already working in Adams 14, in different leadership roles including human resources and academics, when she was tapped to become a director of equity, electives and AVID this year.
She started the school year doing a listening tour, which sparked the idea to do a lecture series. So far the district has held three lectures, including one featuring Pedro Noguera, the dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Topics have ranged from race issues and closing the opportunity gap to creating culturally relevant family engagement.
The position is new in the district. Adams 14 has been under a federal order from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after the agency found the district had been discriminating against Hispanic students and families. Just last week, the office gave final approval to the district’s new and overdue plan for how to educate English language learners.
Patterson reflects, below, on how she views her role and the work she is already planning.
Adams 14 serves about 6,500 students, the majority of whom are students of color, including more than half who are English language learners.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?
I was a teacher in the Cherry Creek School District. I taught eighth grade social studies as well as, I also did some work around multicultural classes and some elective programming. What sparked my interest is when I was asked to teach the multicultural class to seventh graders. That was in my second year of teaching. Then I was Invited to some sensitivity training through the multicultural office in the Cherry Creek School District. And then I was a part of district trainings and then it just took off from there into the ranks of doing teacher on special assignment and administrative positions and assistant principal and principal and leading that equity work as a school leader. That’s what really sparked my interest.
As well as my doctoral work is based on students of color. Latino and African American students in terms of being successful in schools and doing that by bonding and building relationships so that they feel comfortable and can be successful in schools.
Tell me about this new position, as director of equity, what will be your role?
I am right in the process of creating a detailed strategic equity roadmap. Pretty much a plan. So I will do that work with a committee of folks that will help us navigate where we are going to be in line with the district’s strategic plan.
I’ll be doing some coaching, some guiding, advising. Working with principals as well as working with teachers providing professional development. I just completed a professional development session on deficit ideology with staff and it was well attended and teachers are excited and ready to do that work. I will be consulting with the culturally and linguistically diverse education department in terms of implementing some culturally relevant teaching strategies, which we’ve already started in our district with language strategies for our English language learners and just, you know, developing a positive climate and culture within our district. Then communicating with staff and putting out some of those celebrations that happen throughout the year, like Women’s History Month and acknowledging Ramadan, which is coming up soon.
How do you define equity and why is it important in education?
I see equity a couple of ways. When I look at educational equity I think of Enid Lee’s definition of educational equity. But then I think about Glenn Singleton’s work. He talks about raising the achievement of all students, while narrowing the gap between the highest and the lowest performing students and eliminating racial predictability and disproportionality. So when I think about equity, I think about equity as being universal. It is to ensure race, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of everything that we do. It informs. It guides our decision making. We value everyone.
We want to ensure that we have ethical and equitable practices and policies that are fundamental to providing access to social, emotional economic educational opportunities. It’s the landscape of everything that we do. It’s the bedrock of everything that we do. Anytime that we try to make decisions in the district, equity is at the forefront of everything.
I’ve heard in the past some leaders worry that having a director of equity places all the responsibility to think about equity on one person as opposed to on all educators. How would you make sure to stay away from that pattern?
I set the vision for the equity in the district, but the work falls on all of us. It is so important everyone understands the students and the community that we serve. Myself and a committee of folks will be devising a plan to implement the equity work, and the equity work is shared among all of us. I see us having a district equity committee that would consist of school leaders, teachers, instructional coaches, and that group of folks will help us devise the plan for implementation of the equity work that we have in our district. That school leader and that teacher representative from that school will go back to their site and train their school equity team, and that school equity team will then train staff, and so that’s how I spread the work. Equity falls on everybody’s lap because we’re all responsible for this work in the district.
This is a district that has had problems with educating and treating students and teachers of color, and that has affected the community’s trust in the district. How does that history factor into how you think about your role?
I think with some of the things we have put in place we are trying to build community trust. When we really get the plan solidified and ready to go, the community as well as parents will be included in this planning so that we can build the trust that we need to build with our community and our parents. We want to make sure our equity work is for everyone. It’s not just for teachers. It’s for our service center staff. It’s for bus drivers. It’s for parents. It’s for students. It’s for paras. Hopefully our community and partners will be a part of this work as well. We are including everyone.
You’ve mentioned committees helping with the work. Can you expand more on what that might look like?
We are in the process of working on an assessment tool to go out to the district to get a little more feedback from everybody in the district. That includes parents, community, students, staff.
We will look at a number of committees. I am looking at a steering committee within the district to help with the planning process. I’m also looking at a district advisory committee that will consist of a board member, community, and parents as well as teachers and school leadership and district leadership, that will review our plan and help not only with planning but also with policy. Then we will also have a focus group as well as affinity groups. The reason I put those two together is because affinity groups will be based on various similarities, so we’re talking about racial affinity groups, white allyships, Black affinity groups, Latino affinity groups. They will also be focus groups and so they will let us know what is going on with our plan. They will give us feedback on the plan. We’ll have school equity teams so every school will have somebody in their buildings that will be trained in the strategies and help support staff and student teams, and I’m looking for a middle school team as well as a high school student team to be part of this work.
The schools being shut down and students learning remotely likely increased academic gaps further. Are there any particular plans you have in mind, from your lens, to help address those gaps?
At the end of last month we set up a tutorial program for students. The tutorial is provided through our teachers here. It’s an after-school program and it is remote. Within that tutorial program we have a literacy component and then we have a math component.
As we move into the summer we have a summer school program that’s based off of Pedro Noguera’s presentation. The one thing that he said is to make summer school learning fun and exciting. We want to make that as fun as possible. That will run about seven weeks. Also, I believe we are going to be doing a kindergarten jumpstart program. It’s like a transition program. We want to make sure those kids have the strategies and skills so they know what to do when they come into school. That meets the needs of equity in terms of making sure everyone has access and opportunities.
Is there any other specific effort you’re hoping to spearhead that you’re particularly looking forward to?
One effort is we just implemented AVID (a national nonprofit that trains teachers to work with students who may be the first in their families to go to college). This was our first year. It was pretty tough with being in a pandemic but we’re pulling it off. We did implement it at the ninth grade with a high school group of about 28 students. What’s really exciting about this is we’re starting to expand. We’ll be expanding into the middle schools for grades seven and eight. We just had a parent night. We didn’t have as many parents that we wanted but we had about 25 attend and it was real exciting to hear parents talk about how they wanted to get their student in AVID. We had AVID in the past, maybe 2013, 2014 and it had been at the middle school, so our stuff at the middle schools are excited about this work.
That’s one thing I’m really excited about with another thing that is going to be great for our district.