StrivePartnership convenes Leadership Table to drive education equity

By Bob Driehaus

February 4, 2020

What does equity look like in our region? StrivePartnership’s newly formed Community Leadership Table grappled with that important and complex question at its inaugural meeting in December at the American Red Cross building in Evanston.

About 18 leaders from school districts, colleges, non-profits and neighborhoods gathered to define what success looks like in the coming year and beyond and how to achieve it.

Colin Groth, StriveTogether Executive Vice President, who facilitated the meeting, acknowledged that while there is growing discussion about education equity across the country, there is still confusion about it and, too often, reluctance to move to action.

“What does educational equity really mean? I feel like equity and rural are the hot topics to talk about but not do anything about it,” he said, encouraging a vigorous discussion.

The Community Leadership Table brings together 28 top education administrators, civic partners and business leaders, as well as community activists, parents and Cincinnati Public Schools students. They are volunteering their time over the next year to help lead StrivePartnership in establishing a community-wide vision and goals to address systemic challenges that prevent students from achieving their full potential. It is chaired by Leslie Maloney, Senior Vice President, Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, who previously was chair of StrivePartnership’s Executive Committee.

Their insights will be the foundation of a community engagement strategy over the next year, said Ashlee Young, StrivePartnership’s Manager for Community Strategies. As the Leadership Table meets every other month, StrivePartnership will be generating broader community consensus around problems and solutions related to education equity by convening at least a dozen, two-hour meetings throughout Greater Cincinnati, each drawing 25 to 30 people.

At the December meeting, the Leadership Table simulated the community gatherings to help set expectations.

Tianay Amat, Cincinnati Public Schools Assistant Superintendent, said it’s important not to flinch from the reality of the problems the community faces.

“I’m not going to hide it, I’m going to recognize it,” she said. “I’m asking you to help join us in partnership to do something different about it. It doesn’t take away from our wonderful Community Learning Centers and the other wonderful things we have going on.”

She said she values being in an environment with other leaders whose intention is to do something about the problem rather than place blame.

“Being uncomfortable is part of the process of change and how we’re going to move forward,” Amat said.

Other challenges and opportunities were also plainly identified:

  • YMCA of Greater Cincinnati President and CEO Jorge Perez said, “We have to individualize youth development – educational, social emotional, everything.” He added, “At some point we need to examine the deficits. In order to do that, these courageous conversations will make us uncomfortable.”
  • Tim Vogt, Executive Director of Starfire, an asset-based organization that empowers leaders to build community and inclusion alongside people with developmental disabilities, pointed to “generational segregation” as part of the problem. “How does a young person become a good person? Being shown the way by a good adult. There aren’t many secrets to being an adult. I’m interested in generational dialogue.”
  • KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Chuck Ambrose said time is critical so that students are put on a path to success rather than accumulating deficits in their education. “We need to be very intentional in the enrichment investment in tutors, transportation, the tangible things that can be the direct scaffold support. There are basic needs that are basic inhibitors to learn. We still can’t be afraid to challenge each student to rigor and to realize their full potential.”
  • Amira Smith, a Walnut Hills High School junior, said that students have to be judged by more than standardized tests. She shared that even though she4 is not a strong test-take, she was accepted into her first AP course through the recommendation of a teacher who was confident Smith was up to the challenge. “It’s important to have different paths,” she said.
  • Daniel Betts, Cincinnati Recreation Commission Director, said schools need to offer a diverse curriculum so that students can discover and pursue careers they may not have otherwise considered. “We agree our region is not equitable. But equity isn’t the same in every part of region. We need to enrich course curriculum as well as deal with outside issues like poverty.” Those paths to success have to include frank conversations about whether college is the path for some students, he said. “I’m concerned for my children’s peers at Walnut Hills who want to go straight to trade school. Are we thinking about that as well? The goal is not to only send more kids to college. Some of that is grossly overrated when return on that debt is taken into account.”

StrivePartnership Executive Director Byron White said the perspectives from the Community Leadership Table are critical to the organization’s future work.

“I’m learning a lot. I know our team is as well,” White told the group. “We’re eager to put your ideas into action with your support and direction. We’re going to get better because of you.”

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