Welcome to the Oregon Leadership Network's monthly blog series. Topics relate to building the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s P-20 education system. Learn more about the Oregon Leadership Network.
The problem: Beaverton middle schools, like middle schools across the country, were suspending and expelling black and Latino students at about twice the rate of white students. Three years ago, middle school principals in the Beaverton School District took a simple, bold step: They asked for dedicated time to devote to equity work during monthly principal meetings.
The leaders had been through Pacific Education Group’s "Beyond Diversity" training, which gave them a common language for talking about race. With the help of Sho Shigeoka, the district’s administrator for equity and inclusion, they began developing their collective understanding of equity as it relates to middle school leadership.
The following year, they began using the LEAD™ Tool, developed by the Oregon Leadership Network (OLN), and focused on the following high-leverage equitable practices from the tool: Developing Capacity and Organization-wide Leadership for Equity and Fostering an Equitable School Culture. The principals also formed a collective goal: By June 2014, the number of days students of color miss due to suspension or expulsion will be reduced by 10 percent from last year’s number. They used a Critical Friends model to monitor progress toward their goals while providing support and accountability.
Through the OLN, Sho Shigeoka participated in professional learning hosted by the Carnegie Foundation and the Regional Education Laboratory and brought back an improvement model to support the principals’ work. To further support their efforts, the OLN conducted a review of the research literature and provided the Beaverton team with eight promising practices to reduce exclusionary discipline.
From there, principals created a theory of action to link adult actions to intended student outcomes:
If we collectively employ leadership practices that help facilitate the learning for teachers to develop the attitude, knowledge, and skills to nurture positive, caring teacher-student relationships, in particular with those students of color who have more than one out of school suspension and expulsion, then the disproportionate minority discipline will be reduced.
The collective SMART goal and theory of action led them to take a close look at data and analyze trends. Principals began a dialogue with teachers about discipline referrals and race. They found they needed to work with teachers to build their skill sets to support students who were acting out and to make positive phone calls to parents when students with a history of discipline issues were making good choices. Over the past three years, suspensions and expulsion rates for black and Latino middle school students have been cut in half according to district data.
So what advice would Beaverton give to other districts ready to reduce exclusionary and disproportionate discipline trends?
Leverage the national momentum around this issue in your own school district.
Provide relevant professional development that balances practice and research and infuse the work with educator effectiveness.
Remember that building relationships with administrators, teachers, and students is foundational.
Hold each other accountable and be really persistent.