This 2017-2018 school year marks the first full school year for Columbia Public Schools (CPS) to have a district level Chief Equity Officer. CPS added the position to ensure all students district-wide receive the same opportunities for success. As the equity officer, Carla London’s goal is for every student to receive the same opportunities, no matter their backgrounds.
“One of the primary things I am responsible for is ensuring equity becomes a norm at CPS, which means incorporating equity training in all of our 31 buildings as well as here in the administration building. I lead a team of approximately 30 trainers who work in teams and conduct regular trainings at faculty meetings,” London said. “I believe maintaining equity throughout CPS speaks to our motto of ‘Our Kids’ by ensuring that all of our students feel welcomed, valued and enabled to perform to their highest capabilities.”
Assistant principal Lisa Nieuwenhuizen loves London’s ideology and tailoring schools to students needs, but feels the high schools have room to improve. She believes implementing an activity bus for high school students should be more of a priority for the equity team.
“I believe that CPS is making huge strides toward increasing equity across our educational programs. I think that while these strides are good, there’s always room to do more to address inequitable practices, such as the drawing of boundary lines that make it extremely difficult for some students to participate fully in their own high school experience. When we are busing about 200 students from the north to RBHS to ensure our racial and economic diversity, we don’t take into account how that really impacts those 200 students and families, who may not have transportation available to support their children’s participation in tutoring or extra curricular activities,” Nieuwenhuizen said. “This goes to the equitable opportunities for all students. If we are busing students 10 or 12 miles from home, we should provide them with the same opportunities that our neighborhood students have to participate in the total educational experience of high school, which includes extra-curricular activities, such as clubs, music, band, speech and theater, sports and tutoring.”
A question of equity also comes into play for yearbook photos. For the past several years, clubs had to schedule times before and after school to take yearbook pictures in order to not cut into instructional time. This is a problem because the group photo schedule could differ from the club’s usual meeting hours and a number of students will miss their pictures.
For sophomores Shanley Silvey and Grace Dyer, timing couldn’t have been worse. Dyer missed Key Club and Relay For Life photos because of personal conflicts with the club pictures morning time, and later couldn’t make it to Young Democrats and Mini-MizzouThon pictures because they cut into tennis practice. Alongside Dyer, Silvey feels that not allowing yearbook pictures during the day is unfair to those with obligations outside of the school day.
“I’m in Young Democrats and Mini-MizzouThon. I also participate in cross country and marching band. Both of my club pictures were after school around 4:15 p.m. [and] while I was able to make it to my pictures, it was a rush getting from the club pictures to my after school commitments,” Silvey said. “I think it would be helpful for the club pictures to be taken during the school day to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be present in the picture. ”
Though there are still small matters like the activity bus and photos to work out, London’s team feels confident in what progress they have made so far. Right now, their focus is on giving students equitable access to technology at school and home.
All RBHS students received personal laptops this school year, and London’s team decided CPS would provide Wi-Fi for students who do not have connection at home, which London believes was an important move on their part.
“It is absolutely necessary in this age of technology where much of the work students are given can best be accessed through online methods and not every family is able to provide that for their students,” London said. “If we’re truly about providing access to opportunity, it’s imperative that we remove as many barriers as we possibly can to that access.”
Nieuwenhuizen loves the direction London is taking and hopes for progress.
“It is important for all students to receive equitable opportunities. That means giving each student what he or she needs to be successful. That might differ from student to student,” Nieuwenhuizen said. “If we are serious about closing the achievement gap and making our school equitable for all students, we have to think about differentiating to meet students where they are.”