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Creating Antiracist Schools Begins with Transforming Ourselves

Uncategorized      June, 2021     

 

The work of developing Antiracist Literacy Leaders is built on the deeply powerful work we’ve witnessed through the Antiracist Collective under Daneen Keaton’s leadership. We had the special opportunity to hear directly from the school leaders that have undergone this transformative work during an especially challenging year.

In the past 15 months, many long-standing systemic inequities have become even more visible; many people have resolved to correct the, racial injustices, and anti-Blackness that is deeply embedded into every system, education included. We are inspired by the school communities who leaned into this moment to uproot the practices that were not working, and lead with a community and antiracist approach. In this moment, we have the collective power to rewrite a different future for our students and for ourselves.

Amber Saberton

Principal, Aspire Monarch Academy

Like many of us, when the pandemic hit Amber found it difficult to navigate. The coaching from Daneen and the Antiracist Collective was critical to the success of Amber’s leadership during this time. When she felt stuck or like she couldn’t do it anymore, Daneen reminded her that it’s not just about her, but the 450 students, families, staff, and community members that count on her leadership.

What became very clear was the importance of working alongside her school community. When they saw declines in their students’ reading engagement, staff created surveys that were given to every student and family. The responses gave them the answers to shift their approach and better meet the needs of their students and families. They hosted virtual informational meetings for parents to learn more about how they can help their scholars with literacy at home and are allocating resources in next year’s budget to purchase more books that are diverse and reflective of the school community.

Amber shared, “Through teacher feedback and surveys, they’ve indicated most strongly this year that they feel they’re being developed in antiracist practices and equity”. She remains hopeful and excited to continue the work and hold these same commitments as students return to in-person instruction.

Julissa Lambert Yank

Principal, ACORN Woodland Elementary

Julissa’s driving force for her work came from her own personal story. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 9 and sees so much of her own experiences reflected in her students. While it was not an easy experience and she often struggled with feeling ignored at school, she wants to show her kids that if she could do it, then anything is possible for their futures.

Her own leadership has been informed deeply by the work through the Antiracist Collective. Whether it’s conversations about the budget or the curriculum, antiracism and the needs of students are at the core. It has resulted in her staff feeling more seen and heard in the decision making process and decisions that are driven by student needs, such as hiring more diverse staff that reflects the students and community. In learning to take a pause and do the inner work first, she has learned to show up with more compassion.

Julissa shared, “My job would be easier if I went along with the status quo and did the same things that have been semi successful. But I didn’t take this job because it’d be easy, it’s work from the heart.”

Gia Truong

Chief Executive Officer, Envision Schools

As a Southeast Asian refugee from Vietnam, Gia considers herself one of the lucky ones who was able to navigate her way through school. Even though she did not have the language at the time, she witnessed the systemic barriers impacting low-income students and students of color.

Gia’s view of leadership has changed significantly through working with Daneen. For her, the real work starts with looking in the mirror. While the short term wins of student outcomes are important, she also acknowledges that it’s not enough. We must think about transforming the system and working alongside students, families, staff, and the community to do something very different.

Gia shared, “The work is the struggle. It’s never going to be easy or done, it will always be challenging. But the joy is being in community with folks doing the work and finding success along the way.”


To disrupt inequities and dismantle systemic racism, leaders must do the inner work first, so that an antiracist lens informs every interaction with a student, a family, or community member. The real change begins when we change ourselves and show up differently. It creates a ripple effect that expands beyond just our personal interactions.

To create schools with deracialized student outcomes, antiracism must be reflected in every single aspect of a school including policies, professional development, school climate, curriculum, instruction, assessment, and more, with students at the center of every decision.

We look forward to seeing the future of this work expand under Leadership for Liberation. This is the transformative work we’ve been needing and waiting for.

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