Our district, like many others in Minnesota and across the country, is facing an achievement gap among students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. As a Mexican-American growing up in rural Minnesota, I know that my performance and success was considered a statistical risk. I know that my children’s ethnicity would indicate they are statistically at risk for lowered academic outcomes today. But I am not a statistic, my children are not a statistic, and I know each child in our district is not a statistic. Through my personal experience and my work with students across diverse metro communities, I know each student is capable of successful outcomes.
The achievement gap among students within our district is a key issue and concern that I have a personal passion to help solve. In meeting with multiple administrators, I have become aware of elements of past and current plans that are working and not working to improve the achievement gap. In speaking with parents and teachers, I know that culturally relevant learning and engagement skills are critical to all students’ success. A personal example to me recently was a question in my son’s homework that included an example that he didn’t understand because it wasn’t part of his day to day life exposure. He spent more time fixated on trying to figure out the example, that he couldn’t focus on solving the math problem. Ensuring academic content is relatable and recognizable to students while also broadening their exposure is important for all students across our district. Additionally, as a business professional working with teams across the globe, I understand the broader value of strong cultural competency skills. To effectively work with colleagues across the globe, I need to understand different cultural ways of working and living, I see this directly applying to how our teachers connect with students, as well as how we can better equip our students with critical future skill sets.
Within our district, we have many buildings that are seeing positive achievement gap improvement in applying elements of the district plan as well as unique building-level initiatives. We are seeing some excellent year over year growth outcomes at many sites. I want to empower our administrators and teachers to share their successes and learnings. I want to transplant initiatives that are successful, and I am willing to divest from initiatives that are not driving the outcomes expected. My current professional day to day responsibilities center on problem solving and transforming organizations and processes for differential results. I will bring this experience and background to the challenge of the achievement gap. I will encourage data-driven approaches and will seek to implement solutions that are well-researched and have been proven to drive academic results. I will also encourage local building-level experimentation as my personal and professional experience has shown me that those closest to the challenge often have the best knowledge of the situation and ideas for solutions – often they are seeking to be empowered to drive and share their solutions.
In evaluating achievement gap closure success stories across the nation, we must also acknowledge the complexity of the challenge. In speaking with administrators, some key root causes of the gap in proficiency scores includes students experiencing gaps in their time in school, entry into our schools at below grade level, and a growing number of students who have and are experiencing trauma and mental health issues. These challenges require support structures that are inside and outside of school. Our district is exploring and growing partnerships within our communities and I will support efforts to ensure we have the right mix of resources to best support our staff and students. I will work with all stakeholders to ensure we have the right level of surrounding partnerships and that we are communicating our needs to external partners who can help us solve this challenge. Finally, I will seek out innovative ideas from across the state and country and will have a willingness to experiment and pilot to test out potential solutions. I believe we can close the achievement gap and I will work diligently to address the root causes that are within our control as well as partnering with stakeholders to improve the root causes outside our control. I know that each student is capable of successful outcomes because I’ve lived it and I’ve seen the unique skills and talents inside every individual child I’ve ever worked with. We can solve this challenge together.