• Emily Berry

Why We Can't Slow Down

Updated: Mar 11


Part 2 of 2 on our district's work with ICS for Equity


Along with the rest of our board, I’ve attended many hours of training, work and thoughtful reflection and discussion with the two women who co-founded Integrated Comprehensive System for Equity (ICS). Colleen Capper and Elise Frattura are both Ph.Ds and former professors at UW Madison and UW Milwaukee. Dr. Frattura started her career as a classroom teacher when I was still in Kindergarten. Both of them have deep roots in Wisconsin, both of them are staggeringly intelligent, as are the other facilitators we have worked with. They know what they are doing. They have literally written the book - multiple books - on how to achieve educational equity.


They are not just a couple of consultants promising to wave a magic wand and bring us to educational nirvana. They have not offered our district a quick fix, but neither have they given us vague promises. We expect results, and they explained the work necessary to see those results. Though I have faith in this process, it is not blind faith.


It's also important for you to know that ICS isn't going to give us rigid instructions for what to do, and even if they did, this board and our administrative team wouldn't just blindly sign on. We all had a lot of questions and still ask questions about how we are moving forward and what it will mean for students. To be clear, it will not mean ending Special Education (that would be illegal and immoral). It will not mean the end of AP classes - in fact, it may mean the opposite. It does not call for a certain ratio of staff members, or a certain method of evaluating them. Even if those were suggested, if they didn’t align with our district’s policies and values, we could define what for us would best support our equity work


Nothing going on today in our classrooms is getting bulldozed or rebuilt overnight. In fact, ICS facilitators encouraged us not to make dramatic changes without delving into the "why" and "how" first, because being deliberate will make for more sustainable change. We are only a few years into what will likely be at least a five year transformation to align with the ICS framework in a way that works for our district. That doesn't mean the work has been wasted or isn't meaningful yet, but I expect that change will be incremental.


 

The professional development and planning work our staff have done is already bearing fruit in our classrooms. Teachers across all four buildings are on board. Though my work and exposure to our ICS facilitators has been hours-long and sometimes difficult, it is dwarfed by what our teachers and administrators have invested. They are doing very difficult, time-consuming, sometimes emotional and mentally challenging work in adapting and changing their practice to align with what ICS’ model calls for: high-quality teaching and learning for all students, maximizing time for all students in their home classroom where that teaching and learning happens.


Why would teachers agree to do this in the middle of a pandemic when they are already exhausted and emotionally tapped out? You can see some of our faculty and staff describe their work in this video. Based on conversations with teachers and on those who appear in that video, I can guess at why they are doing the work. I think that like me, they believe that our old model of constantly segregating, labeling and removing students from the core of teaching and learning was not serving all of our students well. I hope that like me, they believe a better way is possible that does not create winners and losers but instead allows every student to thrive.


Some might say we didn’t give teachers a choice - an option to say “no thanks” to this new model. That’s true. Our schools are not shared collectives in which everyone gets a vote and nothing changes without unanimous consent. I would expect chaos if that were the case, and not much learning. We have professional school leaders who run our buildings on a day to day basis. Teachers do some of the most important work in the building, and they have a voice. They do not have total autonomy or the ability to say “no thanks” to district-wide changes in policy and practice. They never have, because chaos does not benefit students, and somebody has to be accountable for what goes on consistently across the district.


 

So, what about you, if you’re a parent or neighbor? It’s true that we didn’t put our decision to work with ICS up for a popular vote.


We didn’t go out to the public and ask “who should we hire to guide our path to a more equitable school system?” Instead, district leaders asked for expert advice and a way to move forward with the goals we established in late 2019-early 2020 as we refreshed our strategic plan. Our equity director was familiar with ICS, and yes, had even worked for them. A professional connection led to a trusted partnership. Drs. Frattura and Capper were familiar to administrators in Shorewood as best-in-class facilitators of change. No district employee stood to gain financially as a result of our working with ICS.


You may not recall how this happened, because as you might have noticed from the dates above, this was occurring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our schools - and all schools - like a volcanic eruption. Our district leaders did not stop working toward our strategic goals when that blast hit, however - we continued the urgent work.


Why did our board believe it was so important? For me, it goes back to Fall of 2018. That was the year that following our abandoned SHS production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we heard from Black students how severely we were failing them as a school district - and as a community. For me, as a highly privileged white person who fancied herself a progressive, this was an awakening.


I still flush with shame thinking of a student who bore witness to our community in the middle of a 2018 Town Hall meeting around “Mockingbird,” to tell us all how his main impression of our high school was the floors. As a Black young man, he didn’t dare look anyone in the eye - he looked down all the time. He felt he was an outsider, and seen as a threat. He didn’t want to be seen looking at white girls. That felt dangerous. The white people I know who heard him speak were stunned and heartbroken. Maybe others in that room were less surprised.


I want to do everything I can to make sure that the experience that student described is never, ever repeated in any of our buildings.


The 2020 reckoning that followed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders only added to the urgency I felt to do what I could to tear down systems of oppression - to truly live my values, even if I had to face my failures up until then.


I believe ICS is our best chance at ensuring we do better by all of our students. And we don’t have time to make sure everyone feels safe and unbothered by this work - it is urgent and children’s futures are at stake.


I believe this work will lead us to a higher place. I think when we get there, we won’t be able to rest - it will take work to maintain our new systems just as we worked unconsciously to uphold the old ones. But we will be conscious this time, and fueled by a shared commitment to educational justice.


I believe our work with ICS for Equity is the way to get to higher ground. You elected me in 2019 to do the work of a board member - I think that includes building systems to support every students’ success.


I know our district leadership, including the board, can do better in explaining what our work with ICS is and is not - but you should know that my commitment will not waver. Without the ICS work, my work on the board would be significantly less meaningful to me. It is about more than role on the board - it is part of my work as a mother and as a human.


I hope you will share my excitement and anticipation, imagining a day when every student’s head is held high in our buildings.


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