Stand in the Gap : Be the Instrument of Change

Ideas and dreams are just that unless they become reality. The idea to launch UTDS germinated years ago. My sister and I had often spoken about the opportunity and possibility to combine our experiences and talents in service of others. Largely due to her tenacity and drive, we have indeed made it a reality.

The UTDS mission refers to helping organizations improve, in part by guaranteeing an unwavering commitment to professionalism, execution and accountability. This blog entry focuses on an example of these characteristics in order to make systematic change at the Rochester City School District (RCSD) my current employer.

RCSD is an urban school district with an enrollment of 28,000 students and 5,000 employees. Like many public urban school districts in the U.S., it is characterized by high poverty and poor academic outcomes. Students of color make up 90% of the enrollment (58% Black; 28% Hispanic; 4% Asian). Also unlike many other urban districts, the teaching faculty is largely Caucasian (75%).

My role at the district is that of Senior Director of Youth Development & Family Services (YDFS). Our division advocates for students and families. We solve problems that, for whatever reasons, are unresolved at schools, or with other departments. As a member of the senior management team, I sit on the Superintendent’s cabinet and play a role in the organization’s strategic thinking and execution.

Because of my business background, when I joined the district in 2009, I was responsible for operations food, transportation and facilities comparatively large budgets that enabled the institution’s infrastructure to function smoothly. Due to my deep community relationships and credibility, I was asked to lead YDFS late in 2012.This was a major transition; significantly smaller budgets, but an area in which we struggle mightily relationships with our customers (students and families).

It is quite common to get complaints about unfair treatment of students by teachers and/or administrators, parents feeling unwelcomed in schools, etc. Again, like much of the rest of America, the disparities in treatment and outcomes for students of color is common place. None of this was new, but it had never really been addressed at least not with any level of seriousness.

racism imageRace is a very difficult subject to tackle. It evokes emotions that many people, Black and White, rather not deal with; unless there is an unwavering commitment to professionalism, execution and accountability. The race issue is indeed the elephant our room. Despite all of the racial tension in the country over the last 4-5 years, we NEVER had any meaningful discussion as a leadership team regarding how, or even if, race was a factor in our poor results. That didn’t sit well with me at all.

For the past 2 years, I have been trying to elevate the issue at the leadership table. There was always something more important to deal with. We kept moving from crisis to crisis change in leadership; budget shortfalls; the debate about testing; union contracts, etc.Well guess what.On April 28th, we had a breakthrough. As a result of the persistence on this issue, and collaborative work with colleagues in and outside of the district, our board of education unanimously passed a resolution which aims directly at this issue. In part it reads,

that the Superintendent, or designee, is authorized to enter into an agreement with Dr. Joy DeGruy to provide professional development training to the Board of Education, the Superintendent and Cabinet, Union Leaders, the Parent Advisory Council, and community members, on the Relationship Model of Educational Intervention.This agreement will cover implementation of a professional development plan to begin mandatory, ongoing, education for all district employees focused on learning about and implementing: 1) anti-racist education and action strategies to reduce the influence of implicit and explicit bias; and 2) culturally informed curriculum and instruction that facilitates student engagement, improves performance, and builds school and classroom community. The goal is to facilitate improved student and family engagement, and ultimately improve academic performance.

This is an historic resolution. It must be said that the difficult work lies ahead. Resistance will more than likely come. Execution, implementation and accountability will be tested.I am a huge proponent of Marcus Garvey’s work. One of his famous quotes readsA people without the knowledge of its history, origin and culture is alike a tree without roots.As a district, we have to look into the soul of our organization. We must examine the relationships we have with each other and our customers.We are not immune to the reality of racial oppression, institutionalized racism and individual bias in this country. We must tackle these issues on behalf of our students and families.

When you look at your organizations, do you see any issues that have any negative impact on achieving stated goals Are these difficult issues Leadership matters. Execution matters, and oh yes accountability matters.I will keep you posted after we roll out the implementation plan for the Dr. DeGruy’s Relationship Model over the next several months.

1 Comment

  • Joan H Underwood

    The election of President Barack Obama heralded a concerted campaign of resistance and obstruction which, it could be argued, is yet another example of institutionalized racism. I recently came across an article which presents numerous examples of how persons have openly disrespected the office of President – taking unprecedented liberties in insulting and challenging a sitting president. I encourage you to have a read –

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