Since 1871, the Owensboro Public Schools (OPS) has enjoyed a rich tradition of serving thousands of students across all economic, racial, and cultural divides. In fact, the diversity of the student body is a pillar of strength for both the school district and the greater Owensboro community.
The fruits of OPS’ labor can be seen across the world. Alumni now scatter the globe and are contributing to the betterment of society. There’s much to be proud of and it remains an undeniable feeling of pride to have been an OPS graduate.
It’s equally as undeniable that our world is rapidly changing before us as we begin a new decade in 2020. Not only is every country facing a worldwide pandemic that will forever change the face of education, but there are growing issues of racial divides that are threatening the stability of our communities. According to Kohli, Pizarro, and Nevarez (2017), there’s “new racism” that now exists in K12 public schools as society has evolved over time in terms of the permeation of racism as well as the antiracist movement that exists today.
The Owensboro Public Schools district stands for equity and justice for every student, staff, and community member associated with the school district. In the context of our educational practices as well as the things educators can control, OPS commits to addressing these issues head-on. It is imperative to hear all voices in the conversation toward peace, justice, and equity across the school district.
The conversations are necessary to have and the data is imperative to analyze. But, the work won’t be easy. OPS embraces the challenge, commits to transparency, and resolves to take action to do better. The time is now.
OPS has laid the groundwork for the work to begin by naming the movement: The OPS Equity Task Force. In response to the national movement to end systemic racism, OPS reached out to the Owensboro Chapter of the NAACP. Reverend Rhondalyn Randolph, Board of Education member Michael Johnson, and Superintendent Dr. Matthew Constant discussed appropriate ways to gauge feelings of our stakeholders. Consequently, a set of 10 listening sessions occurred with more than 120 OPS staff members. The data was gathered and compiled. This laid the foundation for several areas of focus moving forward.
It bears recognizing another critical partner: the H.L. Neblett Center. In the 2019-20 school year, Executive Director Olga McKissic knew equity, access, and opportunity issues needed to be addressed and she further realizes that education is the key. Therefore, the Western Academy at the Neblett was born. Giving opportunities to young Black males that models the way to a brighter future is what propels this program and OPS is excited to partner in this equity work with the Neblett Center.
Upon just beginning this work, it is apparent that it must extend past the confines of the OPS school district. According to a September 11th, 2019 Labor Market Analysis published by the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, several data points indicate more work is likely to be done in recruitment and retention of a racially-diverse workforce.
The OPS Board of Education, at its August 27, 2020 meeting, took formal action to recognize the importance of this work. With the passage of the Resolution Affirming Commitment to Racial Equity in the Owensboro Public Schools, the critical nature of the work was defined.
A key component to propel actions also included the identification of a wider array of voices to help lead. Below is the list of the OPS Equity Task Force Core Team Members:
|Steve Bratcher||Districtwide||Chief Academic Officer|
|Jessie Frizzell||Estes Elementary||Guidance Counselor|
|Hunter Hinton||Cravens Elementary||Instructional Assistant|
|Michael Johnson||Districtwide||Board Member|
|David Phillips||Newton Parrish Elementary||Assistant Principal|
|Monica Rice||OHS/Districtwide||College/Career Coordinator|
|Nathan Seaton||Districtwide||Computer Technician|
|Cheri Smith||Districtwide||Director, Federal Programs|
|Tiffany Smith||Sutton Elementary||Teacher|
|Carrie Wedding||Districtwide||Asst. Director of Special Education|
In order to form a coherent plan and strategy around several key components, another strategic partner was identified in this work. Hanover Research is a reputable and trusted firm that prides itself on tailoring insight to drive decisions. Their group can bring to bear many more resources used across the country, as well as sound research practices that can inform the work locally. From facilitating more focus groups (parents, students, administrators) to compiling and synthesizing historical data on multiple data points with multiple gap groups, the promised deliverables will be both powerful and necessary.
Intended Goals and Actions of The Equity Task Force
- Invest in, examine and update resources and practices to include a culturally relevant curriculum.
- Facilitate and synthesize the voices of parents, students, and leaders concerning OPS’ future equity plans.
- Reduction of academic gaps with all opportunity groups as well as an increase in graduation rates of these same groups.
- Assimilation and presentation of historical data (annual Equity Dashboard) of all gap groups, including Black students.
- Examination, Creation, and Monitoring of relevant career services for Black students, as well as intentioned efforts to increase the on-to-college rates.
- Identification of both internal and external key partners to help move the work forward.
- Identification and implementation of professional learning for all staff to include cultural sensitivity training, trauma-informed care, and relationship building with all our opportunity gap students.
- A districtwide audit of both human and capital resources in hopes of creating a dedicated emphasis and watchdog on equity issues within OPS.
- Identification and cultivation of important mentorship programs for gap opportunity students.
- Prioritize OPS staff recruitment and retention of people of color.
- Communicate, Promote, and Advocate for Equity work to extend past the school district (i.e. the Greater Owensboro community).
As OPS begins this ambitious work, they welcome community partnerships to assist. Recognizing the impact the outcomes of the work may achieve, the Public Life Foundation and Hager Educational Foundation has generously donated some financial resources to assist. Hopefully with a now-defined scope of work, more partners like this will offer their assistance.
According to author and cultural critic Bell Hooks, “There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.” The work outlined in this white paper is multi-layered, and if it achieves its purpose, will permeate every part of the OPS organization, the greater Owensboro community, and likely have national impact implications. But unless systems and structures are addressed, the impacts will be short-lived. Therefore, OPS seeks to be bold and aggressive in this work so that true and lasting change will occur to ensure that present and future students will reap the benefits.
Kohli, R., Pizarro, M., & Nevárez, A. (2017). The “New Racism” of K–12 Schools: Centering Critical Research on Racism. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 182–202. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X16686949