What it means to build “equity-centered capacity” in Minnesota schools

This month, as Minnesota superintendents explore new strategies for achieving race equity through “Reimagine Minnesota” community conversations,  it’s important to first understand the need for building equity-centered capacity in Minnesota schools, and what it means for students, staff, and the community.

In October 2016, a group of 17 superintendents and education leaders asked Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) to help build a collective education action plan addressing community concerns about integration, inclusion, and equity. MnEEP did community outreach for the listening sessions and participated in the public event, From the sessions findings, A Collective Education Plan of Action:  A Commitment to create lasting equity and excellence in education for all students was released in December 2017.

What’s most important about this plan is that it emerged from wisdom and perspectives shared by students and families at the metro-wide community listening sessions.  As a result, this plan prioritizes using an equity lens to shift the current school systems, structures, and cultures so that Minnesota students, families, and whole communities can thrive.

National researcher Dr. Sheryl Petty, whose focus is organizational development, and systems change, provides a great definition for what it means to lead schools through equity-centered capacity building:

“Equity-centered capacity building (ECCB) provides a lens, a set of skills, and specific strategies that support school systems and communities as they move along the continuum of transformative and sustainable improvement…ECCB also builds the courage, relationships, and the muscle of administrators, teachers, students, boards, and community members to stay focused on their dreams and goals—helping all students thrive, improving school systems, and tackling the most daunting challenges.”

Along with Dr. Petty, several researchers are documenting the need for school leaders to increase their cultural responsiveness skills and improve leadership skills as a means for building equity-centered school structures and systems.  A collection of this work has been curated by Dr. Petty and can be found here.

At MnEEP, we’d like to point out two key elements of equity-centered capacity building, and how it can be implemented in Minnesota schools.  In future posts, we will cover more key elements with definitions and research groundings for the public’s understanding of equity-centered capacity building (ECCB) in school system transformation. These definitions are also included in the Reimagine Minnesota Plan.

1. Culturally Relevant Curriculum and Reflective Teaching: Culturally relevant teaching encompasses both what materials are taught in diverse classrooms as well as the type of reflection educators must do for more inclusive and welcoming teaching environments.

Equity-centered approaches to address culturally relevant curricula in a school systems might include a major audit of district reading materials to make sure the narratives of these materials are inclusive of diverse backgrounds, histories, and perspectives.  Likewise, this approach emphasizes deep reflection on the cultural assumptions that one might make when creating lesson plans, assignments, learning experiences.  See resources such as: Inclusive Classrooms and the popular text by Geneva Gay, “Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research and Practice.”

2. Recruiting, Developing, Retaining Teachers and Staff of Color:

One aspect of building the equity-centered capacity of human resources in school systems requires growing and retaining more teachers and staff of color in our schools. Research shows that there are significant gains in academic achievement of students of color with the presence of diverse teachers.


Learn more about efforts to build equity-centered capacity in Minnesota schools:   

Reimagine Minnesota, “A Collective Education Plan of Action:  A Commitment to create lasting equity and excellence in education for all students,” Retrieved from: http://www.amsd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Reimagine-MN-Roadmap.pdf  December 2017.

Dr. Sheryl Petty (2015). “Supporting sustainable improvements in school systems: capacity building for equity and excellence,” in Opening the Doors for All: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future, publication of the American Institutes for Research, pp. 64-74.  Retrieved online from http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/OpeningTheDoors-EquityProject-Jan2015.pdf.

Inclusive Classrooms Project. http://inclusiveclassrooms.org/practice/culturally-relevant-curriculum

Jamaal Abdul-Alim, “Study: Black Teachers Bolster Black Student Achievement,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education online: http://diverseeducation.com/article/94866/ April 6, 2017.


Posted in Our Voices, Race Equity, Teachers of Color

Jennifer Godinez View posts by Jennifer Godinez

Jennifer works in partnership with Minnesota communities to build Race Equity Plans and advance policies and practices that promote culturally responsive classrooms and encourage student success.
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