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Voice Recognition

Intentional Equity

One size education does not fit all
Kentucky School Advocate
April 2019
By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer
Illustration courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change (Artist: Angus Maguire)
People often have a hard time defining equity in education. But for Veda Pendleton, it’s easily explained with shoes. 

“My friend is the seventh child in her family, the sixth girl, she’s 5-foot-10 inches, she wears a size 10 shoe,” she said. When her friend needed shoes, she got hand-me-downs. 

“The largest shoe size of her sisters was a size 8,” Pendleton said. “You can only imagine how uncomfortable her feet were every day.” 

Education, like shoes, is not one-size fits all, Pendleton explained to school board members at the Equity in Leadership session at KBSA’s Annual Conference. 

“Equity is making sure that each and every child has what they need,” she said. “Equal means everybody gets a pair of shoes, equity means that everybody gets a pair of shoes in their size, in their style and preferably in their color.” 

For Pendleton, it’s red shoes, size 8 1/2, “because I love red and I love shoes that fit,” said Pendleton, a member of KSBA’s Equity Cadre and former equity lead at the Kentucky Department of Education. 

People also often associate equity with race, but it’s really about looking at how everything – from school district operations to teaching and learning – are done and seeing what needs to be changed. 

Pendleton suggested looking at policies and practices through the lens of considering who does not benefit from how things are done now. 

“As school board members, you have a space of influence and it’s at the decision-making level about policies and practices,” she said. “Those policies and practices can create inequities, so it’s your responsibility as leaders to think about equity differently and implement policies and practices that will not create inequitable situations for students.” 

Equity is often cited as important in closing gaps in achievement among student groups, but Pendleton prefers to see the problem as one of an opportunity gap. Sometimes policies and procedures limit student achievement. 

For example, Pendleton recounted hearing about a school where counselors discouraged African-American students from taking AP classes even though they met the criteria to take the class. At the same time, the counselors encouraged white students who did not meet the criteria to take the classes. 

Then the counselors visited the AP classes to talk about going to college, but when the counselors visited the other classes, they only talked about making it to graduation. 

“Changing that attitude doesn’t cost a thing,” Pendleton said. “Changing what you say about students doesn’t cost anything, but we have to have the capacity to make those changes.” 

Pendleton asked board members to imagine if another district visited their district to review their equity practices, what would they find? 

Susan Hayes, a Christian County board member, said her district has worked with the chamber of commerce and local businesses in a mentoring program for at-risk students. 

“I think that has helped not just the school be more aware of equity, but the entire community,” she said. 
KSBA Equity Cadre member Veda Pendleton (left) discusses equity policies with Morgan County board member Leatha Helwig (center) and Breathitt County board member Anna Morris during KSBA’s Annual Conference.
Changing the inequities found in education is a monumental task, that can’t be accomplished by one teacher, school board member or administrator, Pendleton said. 

But just by recognizing where inequities exist can make a difference for students, she said. Pendleton recommended that school boards operationalize equity by analyzing their policies, then creating a plan. When equitable policies and practices are in place, make sure they are enforced. 

“We can’t solve all the ills of society,” she said, “but we’ve got to make sure our practices and our policies are not creating greater inequities.” 
KSBA Equity Cadre member Veda Pendleton (left) discusses equity policies with Morgan County board member
Leatha Helwig (center) and Breathitt County board member Anna Morris during KSBA’s Annual Conference.  

Breathitt County school board member Anna Morris said she wishes everyone in her district could hear Pendleton’s presentation. 

“Equity is one thing I see as a need in our county schools,” said Morris, who was elected to the Breathitt County board this past November after 33 years of teaching. 

Morris said she hopes to bring Pendleton to Breathitt County before the next school year to speak to the district’s administrators and teachers. 

“I really think that anybody that listens to her will be motivated and inspired to reach out and to minimize that effect on our students’ education,” she said.
About KSBA’s Equity Cadre

Formed in 2017, KSBA’s Equity Cadre provides resources and support to all Kentucky school boards for achievement gap closure. The group is also creating an Equity Toolbox, a suite of resources to help school boards raise achievement, close gaps and ensure accountability. It’s also aimed at helping boards maintain an equity focus as they carry out their role as charter school authorizers.
2018-2019 KSBA Equity Cadre members are Veda Pendleton, former equity lead, Kentucky Department of Education; Susan Hayes, Christian County school board member; Mary Evans, Western Kentucky University, Center for Gifted Studies; Tracy Inman, Western Kentucky University, Center for Gifted Studies; and Julia Roberts, Western Kentucky University, Center for Gifted Studies. 
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