Ask the Staff: Leading with equity 

By Patrick Rice

Patrick Rice, IASB director of equity and field services director for Egyptian, Illini, Shawnee, and Wabash Valley divisions, answers this issue's question.

Q: What's next in IASB's equity work?

A: In alignment with our mission and vision, the Illinois Association of School Boards continues to "light the way" for members by working with boards of education to ensure that school districts in Illinois are future-ready. To reach this goal, boards must monitor two key concerns: student learning and organizational effectiveness. IASB is continuing to examine how our Association can best empower school boards to monitor key systems through an equity lens.

Many Illinois school boards are "leading with equity" because they realize that the board must create a culture that empowers stakeholders to examine practices and procedures — indeed entire systems — through an equity lens. Moreover, the school board that leads also studies the systems behind which district practices and procedures may impede students from being successful.

Why should equity be monitored utilizing a "system" frame? Effective school boards understand that it is best to be proactive regarding how situations will be addressed. Sadly, districts that are reactive work inefficiently, and far too often handle problems by relying on a "popcorn" approach (problem-reaction-solution) and only dealing with problems as they arise.

IASB's goal is to work with school boards to ensure boards provide the leadership necessary for future-ready schools. This requires districts to be proactive by ensuring the right systems are in place to ensure student achievement and organizational effectiveness. To illustrate the need for this work, you might imagine what happens when district stakeholders voices are not heard: the result is they may not demonstrate ownership in district goals. The process of setting district goals and direction are not equitable if key stakeholders voices are not heard.

What systems can be put in place utilizing an equity lens to ensure stakeholder collaboration in district goal-setting and/or a strategic planning process? IASB has assisted boards with setting district goals and direction to incorporate stakeholder voices, and is now adding equity work to that process. For instance, prior to setting district goals, IASB can work with the board to conduct surveys and/or focus groups with district stakeholders with the aim of providing input regarding district goals. IASB is seeking additional ways in which we can assist boards to examine their systems for equity.

Under the direction of Executive Director Thomas Bertrand, an IASB equity committee was formed in Summer 2018, including Equity Director Patrick Rice. Bertrand has challenged the committee to explore additional ways in which IASB can assist school boards in understanding and monitoring district systems for equity.

IASB's equity committee will develop approaches to sharing equity work with member districts, including symposiums, in-district and regional workshops, Division Meeting presentations, resources hosted on IASB's website, webinars, and information regarding "hot topic" equity issues. Examples of these hot topics include the following:

Teacher shortage: 90 percent of the 1,400 unfilled teaching vacancies in Illinois are located in districts funded below adequacy; this means the poorest districts face the greatest shortages.

Disciplinary reforms: After a 2012 study showed Illinois had the largest racial gap in the nation (21.3 percent) in disciplinary referrals.

Educational opportunities regardless of gender: Illinois cases were at the forefront of the debate over facility options for transgender students, and IASB policies reflect policies for Equal Education Opportunities.

In addition to Bertrand and Rice, members of the committee include Dean Langdon, Associate Executive Director, Member Services; Sandra Kwasa, Director, Board Development; Dee Molinare, Director, Field Services; Theresa Kelly Gegen, Director, Editorial Services/Communications; Maryam Brotine, Assistant General Counsel; and Ronald Madlock, Assistant Director, Advocacy/Governmental Relations. Resources for this work can be accessed at

IASB's equity committee will "light the way," as well as help school boards "lead with equity" in order for all students to be successful.