As we start a new school year, the Cherry Creek School and Aurora Public School districts have entered into an unprecedented partnership. Together, the organizations are committed to narrowing and closing Aurora's equity gap based on race, ethnicity and culture.
The two districts brought Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge, former Director of the Center for Strategic Solutions at New York University, to Colorado. He will help staff members work on school-based equity work to design strategies that help ensure all children have the opportunity to be successful.
"Aurora Public Schools recently restructured our organization and created a Division of Equity in Learning," said APS Superintendent Rico Munn. "This is a priority for us and we are excited to continue this important work in creating equitable learning opportunities for all of our students."
The neighboring school districts serve students in the city of Aurora. Cherry Creek Schools also serves students in Cherry Hills Village, Centennial, Glendale, Greenwood Village, Foxfield and unincorporated Arapahoe County. More than 82% of students in APS are students of color, while CCSD has more than 45% children of color.
"We don't know of another partnership in the nation like this," Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull said. "We are both urban/suburban school districts. In each district, our children of color have more in common than our two districts have differences."
Dr. Stembridge, began his career as a middle/high school English teacher in Norfolk, Virginia. He has an undergraduate degree in English, a master's degree in Literature and a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Dr. Stembridge has extensive experience working with urban and high-needs schools to identify strategies for addressing of inequities and patterns of underperformance.
Based on his experience and research, Stembridge said that isolated solutions to closing opportunity gaps for children of color haven't worked.
"It makes us feel like we have to make wholesale changes," Stembridge said. "Instead, we're reorganizing those things we know work."
Successful strategies will require a more complex approach and "won't look the same for any two schools," he said.
Stembridge begins the process of working with schools and teachers using the human-centered "design thinking methodology." He asks educators to:
- Step out of their comfort zones
- Collaborate to find successful strategies
- Ask "What if?"
By doing those things, teachers and leaders may find that some perceived problems are really "opportunities in disguise."
What makes Stembridge's approach unique is that he believes including students' voices in the conversation leads to better outcomes.
"Data tells us what works," he said. "Students' voices tell us why it works."
To be successful, educators must share a belief in kids, commit to planning and engagement and demonstrate consistency of expectations and mindset, Stembridge said. The school communities themselves name the initial parts of some phases of the work to ensure that the strategies they identify empower educators to think with an equal mind to sustain the momentum they create and meet the schools' needs.
"The master teacher doesn't make the strategy, the strategy makes the master teacher," Stembridge said. "Let's start with the one thing we know works and build on that."
At the end of the year, both districts will use what they learn to build capacity and expand the work.
"Closing the equity gap doesn't just happen, it has to be intentional, rigorous and collaborative," Stembridge said.