NYU Steinhardt News

Center for Research and Evaluation Report Sparks District-wide Equity Dialogue

A resource assessment and equity report conducted by the Center for Research and Evaluation at NYU Metro Center for the Battle Creek, Michigan school system resulted in historic dialogue among top administrators aimed at remediating inequalities and reorienting policy toward more equitable outcomes.

By , Battle Creek Enquirer

School board members and superintendents of the Battle Creek area’s four major districts met under one roof for the first time in recorded history Thursday for the sake of their present and future students.

Battle Creek, Lakeview, Harper Creek and Pennfield school leaders met in a W.K. Kellogg Foundation auditorium to begin finding ways to ensure that all students in their schools reach their full potential.

Foundation President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron welcomed and applauded the school leaders for coming together with the future of children in mind. The foundation made a commitment in March to assist BCPS in adding school programs and improving its service to students and families.

“I am really excited about the energy in this community toward the education of children,” Tabron said. “I think the foundation’s approach is always to promote the aspirations of the community.

“The collaboration is the beginning of what will become a shared vision for our community and we applaud the leadership and the courage of all the leaders in this room to take this on collectively.”

The four districts agreed to meet after the superintendents and school board member from each district bonded during a March equity conference in Chicago.

Lakeview capped incoming Schools of Choice transfers shortly after the conference at the request of Battle Creek Superintendent Kim Carter. Harper Creek also is capping Schools of Choice transfers to stay within building capacity.

The joint meeting followed the March release of a BC Vision-sponsored New York University study of the Battle Creek area’s education system that showed years of racial and class segregation has weakened BCPS, resulting in significant student enrollment decline and budget and program cuts.

More than 100 community members packed into the auditorium for the two-hour meeting, which each district treated as an official special board meeting.

Harper Creek Superintendent Rob Ridgeway announced the group will meet again in late May for an all-day training session to better understand educational equity.

Representatives of Kellogg Community College’s Center for Diversity and Innovation and the National Equity Project, host of the Chicago conference, facilitated the joint meeting.

CDI’s Jorge Zeballos and NEP’s Stephen Chang and Hugh Vasquez led the school board members and superintendents through a series of exercises to help them understand equity and the results of the BC Vision study, which was conducted by the Center for Research and Evaluation at the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

According to the study, Battle Creek Public Schools is 69 percent white, but the student population in the district is 36 percent white. The study also revealed that 38 percent of children under age 18 in Battle Creek live in poverty, compared to 10 percent in Harper Creek, 14 percent in Lakeview and 13 percent in Pennfield.

The study also noted that white students and students from families with money were far more likely to transfer out of city schools than students of color and poor students.

The school board members and superintendents divided into groups to share their experiences in school and to discuss how they could work together to tackle their concerns from the study.

The facilitators defined equity as “promoting just and fair inclusion, and creating conditions in which everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential.”

“I’m extremely happy,” BCPS school board President Art McClenney said. “The turnout was more than I expected. I look forward to continuing what we started here tonight. I think it will benefit the metropolitan area and all our kids.”

BCPS board member Nathan Grajek encouraged the group to explore consolidating at least administrative services.

Lakeview school board President Kathleen Moore said everything needs to be on the table, including possibly merging busing and business services.

“The study recommended against (consolidation), however, consolidation of services will need to be explored,” Moore said after the meeting Thursday night.

On Friday, Moore said, "While consolidation of services may be explored, the real issue we are facing is about how to create educational equity.  What I hope is that together we can find the answers that none of us have on our own."

City of Battle Creek Ward 2 Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray offered her support to help the group succeed.

“As one elected official to the next, I’m with you, I support you,” Gray said. “Be bold, be courageous, be authentic. I’m here to work with you as much as I can, to offer my support.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to be a world light in education and I’m looking forward to being a part of it with you.”

This article was originally published on the website of the Battle Creek Enquirer. Contact Battle Creek education reporter Noe Hernandez at 269-966-0684 or nhernandez@battlecreekenquirer.com.