Salem-Keizer Public Schools
Salem, Oregon
 

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The most inspirational aspects of this work have been the stories of students who are being told by trusted adults, “We believe in you!” The buzz around school wasn’t, “Are you taking an IB class?” but rather, “What IB class are you signing up for?”

Students have said:

It was hard work but it paid off. I have college credits now that I would not have if it were not for this equity work.

Thank you for believing in me and providing me this opportunity. These classes have changed my view on life and my future.

These classes made me a better student. I learned organizational skills, time management skills and organizational skills, which I can apply in all aspects of my life.

I am prepared for college rigor and know without a doubt that I will be successful!

Salem-Keizer School district serves almost 42,000 students in Oregon. We have six comprehensive high schools and a diverse student population. We have paid close attention to providing many opportunities for college level coursework at each high school. What we hadn’t found a strategy for was how students in these courses mirrored our students in our hallways.

While this is an important district initiative, the work of equity happens in our schools. A leader who believes in this work and leads his/her school through the important conversations is instrumental. It is because of the incredible instructional leaders who believe in this work that we have had success!

Our Reason for Tackling AP/IB Equity Work

Salem Keizer Public Schools decided to tackle AP/IB equity work to improve the academic achievement of our students. Hearing from leaders of other school districts who had participated in the project convinced us that a) we have an equity gap problem and b) the gap can be closed. Our data in our high schools revealed that students of poverty and underrepresented students were not enrolled in our most rigorous courses. Therefore, these students were not afforded the opportunity to excel academically. By tackling the equity work our students would have opportunities to earn college credits and take classes that were rigorous and relevant.

The Most Inspiring Aspect of the Work

The most inspirational and life-changing aspect of the work has been removing barriers and strengthening assets and changing the growth mindset of students and staff. Students experienced success in AP/IB classes and believed in themselves. Many students for the first time believed they could go to college and actually set goals to attend. It was amazing to see teachers experience growth mindset, examine their instructional strategies and provide opportunities and supports for underrepresented students.

Who Benefits Most

Our underrepresented students received the greatest benefits from the AP/1B equity work. Students felt valued, were motivated, and challenged to stretch and excel in very rigorous coursework. Students learned to persevere and to believe they could be successful in AP/1B classes. Students felt supported and more knowledgeable regarding why it was essential that they take these courses and be successful.

Advice

Don’t be surprised when this work becomes the catalyst for deep, ongoing conversations about inequities in your organizational systems and beliefs. Barriers often go unnoticed until you begin to remove them. In order for this work to succeed and sustain, the real change work happens with district and school teams who are willing to wrestle with uncomfortable topics that require openness and courage. Then, watch as new voices of leadership emerge from within.

As leaders, we must be courageous and take the necessary actions to hire and retain staff that believe all students can learn. Underrepresented students must be protected from racism and to people who will not afford them the opportunities they need to excel academically.

Leaders must set the vision, make it clear and hold all stakeholders accountable to achieving the goals we set. We must implement systems that assure once students are in AP/1B classes they have all of the necessary supports to be successful. Staff will need additional supports such as AP/ 1B PLC groups and staff development on poverty and equity. In our experience we have found that students who were previously excluded from AP/1B classes due to behavior, GPA etc. have been very successful when provided this opportunity. It is imperative that we remove our personal bias and beliefs and provide all students every possible opportunity to achieve to their potential.

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