Building and sustaining equitable and inclusive practices through leadership

By

Meghan Ensell

“They’ve done what might have been considered unimaginable,” says Lauren Katzman, adding, “created a virtual environment, provided an education to students while schools were closed, all in the midst of a global pandemic, and at a time when issues of social justice were heightened.” 

Katzman is an associate research professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and executive director of Urban Collaborative, a national network of school districts committed to improving outcomes for students with disabilities. Urban Collaborative joined MLFTC in 2019. 

The “unimaginable” work Katzman is praising is that of Urban Collaborative’s member districts. In April, over 250 participants — from 57 school districts and 16 states — attended Urban Collaborative’s three-day Virtual Member Meeting. The spring 2021 event, “Leadership: Building and Sustaining Equitable and Inclusive Practices,” focused on providing participants with relevant content from colleagues and a time to connect with each other while sharing successes and challenges. 

“It was our hope that the time spent together would be restorative, both professionally and personally, as well as serve as a celebration of their work this year,” says Katzman. 

John B. King, president and CEO of The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that seeks to identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps in education, welcomed members. “We have a moral and a civil rights obligation to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed regardless of background or whether the student has a disability. But the data we see makes it very clear that we as a country are not living up to the intent of the law,” he says.

A different approach was used for the keynote speaker this meeting. Instead of one, there was what Katzman refers to as “Collab Talks,” short presentations, led by esteemed educators and designed to share ideas such as the courage of leadership, importance of collaboration, and building capacity in a school district, all while leading through a pandemic.  

The keynote panel was led by: Elizabeth Keenan, superintendent, Special School District in St. Louis, Missouri; Debra Brooks, executive director of Special Education, Baltimore City Public Schools, Maryland; Macon Tucker, manager of Special Education, Baltimore City Public Schools; Gerard Cortez, assistant superintendent, San Antonio Independent School District, Texas.

The event then moved into “consultancy sessions” in which members acted as consultants to Albuquerque Public Schools, the host district. “This session never fails to bring about robust conversations,” says Katzman. One such session, titled “Child Find 2.0,” asked how educators can bring students who have been absent or not attending school due to the pandemic, back to school.

It wasn’t all business, of course. Throughout the meeting, restorative and fun activities like yoga, a DJ and a virtual mural were sprinkled in.

The next event is planned to be in-person in San Diego, California, Dec. 6–8, 2021. 

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