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#Policychange Not #Thoughtsandprayers

Hands with Peace signs

There is a passionate and powerful renewed interest from the public who are demanding real policy change to dismantle the racist policies and practices embedded in our country’s operations, including those leading to vast disparities in K-12 public schools.

But how do you get policy change with teeth, instead of words and platitudes that don’t result in real change?

Often, the way government and politics works is opaque to the general public, and you can’t advocate wisely if you don’t know how decisions are made and how you can impact them.

The Bend- La Pine School Board, of which I am the Co-Chair, is passing a Resolution called “School Board Commitment to Equity and Anti-racism” (see below) and it provides a good example of the levers that can be used to codify anti-racism into policies and practices in a way that will finally lead to change.

Every elected body is a little different, but I believe our School Board provides a relevant example to learn from.

In an effort not to micromanage the Superintendent and staff (which nearly always ends in disaster), our School Board operates using a Policy Governance model. Our specific model is the “Carver model” but a variety of policy governance models are in use across the country. Our policy governance model is designed so that our Board sets the *goals* and *guardrails* for our Superintendent, but provides her and her staff the autonomy to figure out the best way to meet the goals while staying within the guardrails our Board has set. Based on this model, the School Board has six primary levers for setting the priorities of the district and holding the Superintendent accountable for meeting them, all of which we are utilizing in this Resolution:

  1. “Board Ends,” which are the goals we set for the district and Superintendent. As the old adage accurately says, “What gets measured gets done.” The goals the Board set trickle down in a myriad of ways, impacting the priorities of the district and schools. Therefore, as part of the resolution, we are pledging to revise our Board Ends to put equity and anti-racism at the center and ensure we are measuring both qualitative and quantitative measures that will tell us if ALL of our students are thriving, especially those traditionally marginalized. Our Superintendent is evaluated based on meeting these goals, so Board Ends are one effective way to put some teeth in our commitment to equity and anti-racism.
  2. “Executive Limitations,” which are the “guardrails” we set for the Superintendent. They are phrased in the negative; so for example, we might say “The Superintendent shall not fail to disaggregate student discipline data by race and ethnicity.” Our School Board does not currently have an Executive Limitation focused on equity and anti-racism, so part of our pledge is to pass one before the next school year begins. Our Executive Limitations are the second way our Superintendent is evaluated and another method to put some teeth in our commitment.
  3. District Policies, which are the guardrails for district staff. The School Board will draft, review and revise policies, including two highlighted in this Resolution: Educational Equity, JBB-AP and Non-Descrimination AC-AP. District policies do not guarantee quality implementation, but they are a useful tool and document to refer back to regarding expectations and guardrails.
  4. The District Budget, which is how we put our money where our mouth is. I heard an economist recently say that “Your budget IS your strategy.” As part of our Resolution, we are committing to putting equity and anti-racism at the center of our process when reviewing and approving the district budget, to ensure adequate funding to support equity work and ensure our budget reflects a priority to closing the opportunity gap.
  5. Superintendent recruiting, hiring, managing and evaluation, which is some of the most important work our elected Board does. During the Superintendent search currently in progress (put on hold due to COVID-19, but will restart in the Fall), the Board re-wrote the Superintendent job description to put equity as the top priority, not just one of the priorities. Our Board went through training together to reduce and bring personal awareness to our unconscious bias during the hiring process, and we revised our recruiting contract to prioritize the recruitment of diverse candidates. Once we hire a new Superintendent, we will revise their evaluation to reflect that priority as well.
  6. And finally, our Board governance procedures, which describe how we will govern as a Board. By revising our Board governance procedures, we codify our board commitment to governing through an equity and anti-racist lens. This allows the Board to constantly refer back to that commitment if the Board as a whole, or any individual board members, diverge from that commitment.

Another important lever in this resolution is diverse representation at the recommendation-making or decision-making table. I believe the best and fastest way to see the changes we desire, is by ensuring there is significant diverse representation in the groups providing the recommendations for change. For example, when the district is reviewing curriculum, it is far more effective to have diverse viewpoints on the committee making the recommendations, rather than a committee made up of mostly white, able-bodied, straight people, providing a recommendation to a board (which is also majority white, able-bodied, and straight) and expecting the Board to somehow arrive at a different answer than we have for the past 100 years. I digress.

So, now that you aware of the six governance tools we use to manage the District — goals, executive limitations, district policies, the budget, superintendent management, and board governance procedures — you can hold us accountable:

  1. Attend School Board meetings and make public comment in favor of these new policies, or suggest changes to make them better.
  2. Write an email to the School Board in favor of these new policies, or suggest changes to improve them. (
  3. Once they are passed, show up at meetings or write us emails holding the Board accountable for implementation. Looking for ideas for the types of actions you should be holding us accountable for? I’ve spent the last two years working with a cohort of school board members from around the country — mostly leaders of color — to draft a framework for what anti-racist School Board actions look like. You can check it out here.
  4. If you can provide a diverse voice to the table, apply to join our Budget Committee.
  5. If you bring a diverse voice to the table, run for School Board!

I’d love to hear from other School Board members and stakeholders — how can we do better? What are you doing to put “teeth” in your promises to ensure #blacklivesmatterinschool?