The past five years have brought a renewed awareness of equity issues to local schools and renewed commitment to addressing inequities through training programs for teachers, staff, employees and local school boards.  Districts 90, 97 and 200 speak to their efforts to address implicit bias.

LeVar Ammons, OPRF’s new Executive Director of Equity and Student Success, hit the ground running and says that the issue of implicit bias can’t be underestimated. “It’s really all around us, in media, in advertising, in our culture.”

Ammons says the high school is combatting the issue with the Collaborative Action Research for Equity (CARE) initiative which supports teachers in studying professional practices and improving those practices in ways that address racial bias. CARE is based on participating in authentic racial self-reflection, developing critical race consciousness, engaging in healthy racial discourse, and conducting racial investigation of educator practice.

CARE was instituted in the 2017-18 school year, and 45 teachers were trained to be CARE leaders. “These teachers along with our two racial equity coaches provide training for teachers during professional development days. Our teachers are looking at themselves in a sense; they’re looking into how structures of institutional racism show up in all of us,” he says.

At the high school, racial equity professional development occurs eight times throughout the school year, and Ammons says the goal is to increase that frequency. “We want to consolidate so that it’s interwoven in everything we do. Folks here are already doing this work, and the number one goal is to develop procedures to implement the racial equity policy that we just passed.”

Beyond faculty and classrooms, Ammons says the training will encompass all adults at the school. “We are working on bringing this to our building and grounds staff, our safety security team and our food service employees. These folks have direct contact with and an impact on students as well.”

Ammons recently attended the Beyond Diversity Conference along with school board president Jackie Moore and says the school board is committed to training on equity and implicit bias. “We are pushing to make this a systematic training. It has to be from the top down, all the way through. The ultimate goal is to no longer have academic outcome predicted by race.”

Carrie Kamm, chief of equity issues in the District 97 Oak Park elementary schools, says during the 2018-19 school year, the schools facilitated two trainings focused on implicit bias for school-based and certified staff. “The first session focused on developing a foundational understanding of implicit bias, connecting that understanding to student and staff lived experiences, and engaging in circle discussions to share reflections and learning. The second session focused on staff gaining a better understanding of their specific biases by completing the implicit bias test, understanding how to navigate system 1/system 2 thinking, and using classroom tools/strategies to address how bias impacts student experience.”
Kamm says this year, “Our new hire class will participate in a professional learning session on exploring bias on Oct. 29. The Diversity Council, in collaboration with our Culture and Climate Coaches, PBIS internal coaches, will design our third session on exploring how bias impacts student discipline.”

On Oct. 15, the District 97 board approved the professional development plan for the 2019-20 year. This year, they will receive training from the National Equity Project and C-ROAR (Chicago Regional Organizing for Anti-Racism). The goals of the C-ROAR training are to create a shared language and understanding of racism, to explore and unpack a framework of systemic racism, to analyze how systemic power operates in our society and in our institution, and to determine next steps for the school district.

Kamm says these objectives will support the school board in its understanding of the complexity of system changes necessary to address matters of racial, socioeconomic and cultural diversity within the community and district. 

At River Forest’s District 90 elementary schools, Dawne Simmons, head of communications and community outreach, says implicit bias training is folded into all of the district’s equity initiatives. “Implicit Bias training has been part of our equity initiative since we formed our Inclusiveness Advisory Board in 2014.”

Simmons says everyone goes through equity training in the district. “All of our staff, our board and even the community takes part in our training. New teachers are trained as part of new teacher orientation. The inclusiveness training goes beyond race and ethnicity. That’s a big part of it, but it also includes gender identification and students with special needs.”

Christine Gerges, assistant principal at Lincoln and Willard schools, previously worked as a teacher at Willard and says that the district employs a few methods for addressing implicit bias in the classroom. “We use the Universal Design for Learning program, which addresses implicit bias, and the Second Step program which is a social-emotional learning program. It helps us to look at our perspective and consider the perspectives of others,” says Gerges.

Gerges says the training is ongoing throughout the year, and that the teachers are constantly working with a goal of eliminating bias in the classroom, through training with the National Equity Project and through activities such as the One District, One Book initiative in which administrators, educators and community members delve deeply into issues by reading a book. 

Simmons says since the implementation of the Inclusiveness Advisory Board, the district conducts a survey every other year to see how students and families feel they are welcomed at local schools. She points to one issue identified in the 2015 survey: “Too many students at the middle school felt like they didn’t have a relationship with an adult. So, we pulled together a student advisory group model. Students participate in the same group from fifth to eighth grades and in their groups they deal with social-emotional learning and building relationships. It helps them form relationships outside of their social circles.”

Simmons also says that through the district’s partnership with the National Equity Project, they recently joined the Minority Equity Network and expect this initiative will keep the district on the path of always working towards equity.

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