The Equity Rubric: The Power of Parent Voices

Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez

Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez

By Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez, Research and Policy Associate

“I have a question,” Sacramento said at the end of our training. “It’s not really about this, but I just want to put it out there.” Sacramento, a mother of three students in the Robbinsdale School District, shared frustration about the dangerous place the bus picked up children from her apartment. Rather than driving in front of the building, it simply stops on the corner, at the top of a hill where there is no enclosed place for the children to wait. “What can I do about this?” she said.

I’ve had a seat at the table with the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative (EEOC) for the last two years, but my conversations in Robbinsdale with Latina mothers on the inquiry team have reminded me what is at the heart of this project. I immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Mexico in 1998. My family chose to move into the northern suburb of Shorewood because of the highly ranked public schools there.

I often find myself revisiting memories from my childhood, remembering the confusion of that first year, trying to navigate literal translations, new accents, the humiliations of being a stranger in a new land, and understand why my parents were given judging glances and kept at a safe distance. Early on I learned the art of code-switching, knowing how to show different parts of myself, when to highlight and when to drop my accent, as to not make anyone too uncomfortable. Looking back on the challenges of that experience, I’m thankful to have had parents with the language skills to advocate for me in the classroom even when my teachers did not.

From the earliest stages of the Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project, the EEOC has been very intentional about incorporating parent and youth voices to ensure an authentic level of engagement with communities of color and American Indian communities. Parents’ voices have been pivotal in crafting the pilot framework and guide the shape it will take in the different districts. When Sacramento shared her concern about the bus route, it was with the purpose of coming up with a solution, a concrete plan for action. She promptly came up with a plan to call the department of transportation and propose an alternative pick-up location.

The Education Equity Rubric Pilot project is built on the idea that parents and communities of color have the knowledge to bring about the change their children need. I share this as a story of what happens when community sees their power as an asset. If you ask parents like Sacramento and her friend Nancy what they want for their children, what they need for success, they will respond without hesitation. Too often, communities of color are told we cannot hold power in our own hands, we cannot mold change. But with that simple statement and plan of action, Sacramento is already shattering this misconception. The exciting part is that the best is yet to come.


Education Equity Rubric: Voices from Deer River

Nelima Sitati

Nelima Sitati

By Nelima Sitati, Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator

My travel to Deer River in Northern Minnesota means a long three hour drive. The introvert in me enjoys these quiet moments when I am alone in the car and have the ability to gather my thoughts. The winding roads and scenic beauty ensure that I do not even remember the length of time it takes to get there. Most importantly, I look forward to meeting with the Deer River Education Equity Inquiry Team. I always leave those meetings having learned a lot and feeling energized to continue doing this work.

The Deer River Education Equity Inquiry Team is a team of parents, district administrators, community stakeholders, and teachers and district staff. They are working together to identify barriers to education equity and co-create solutions to close these gaps. Lael Storlie is a member of the team who works for the Itasca Community College as a Trio Talent Search Advisor. She is based in four high schools – Deer River High School, Bigfork High School, Northland School (Remer) and Bug O Nay Ge Shig. She provides support and expands college access to low income and potential first generation college students in grades 6-12. She is also a community member who is raising three children. She is a 2002 graduate of Deer River High School.

The Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project is a statewide project that seeks to advance education equity throughout the state of Minnesota. The project moves away from the traditional top down solutions and believes that the people most impacted need to be involved in identifying what barriers exist for them and in the solution-making process. The project also moves away from the usual test score measures as the only way of measuring education equity, and seeks to dig deeper into other issues that are ailing the education system and could be contributing to these gaps. As Lael puts it, she is involved in this project because she believes that, “every student deserves equal access, opportunity and support.”

The project aims to include voices that are traditionally not included at the decision making table. Lael says that her experience so far has been very positive; and that by participating in the project she is finding her voice as well as growing as an individual. The project works towards achieving eight goals that the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative worked to identify as being useful in order to achieve equity. These goals resonate with her. She “believes in equity and that in its truest form it provides solutions to many issues on a broader scale.” Her hopes for the Deer River School District and this work are that they will use this project as a platform for an opportunity to propel them into action. She sees this happening through the data that is being collected and the room that is being provided to have conversations that propel growth.

Lael believes that the work of this project provides a great opportunity for change, and feels very fortunate to be included in doing this work in her home district. With the continued work and dedication of Lael and the rest of the team, the Deer River School District is on a good start to making education equity for all a reality. I am very excited to be part of their journey.

Learn more about the Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project on the OAP website.


Nelima Sitati Leads Equity Rubric Pilot Project

Nelima headshotThe Organizing Apprenticeship Project is delighted to welcome Ms. Nelima Sitati to our staff team!

Nelima has joined us in the position of Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator, and will be leading our work on this innovative, collaborative project. Nelima brings a unique blend of creative and respected community organizing, policy leadership and successful and innovative work with youth, parents and community leaders from very diverse communities to this position. Most recently a lead organizer at Harrison Neighborhood Association, she created and led complex collaborative projects around housing, education, and employment. Strongly committed to policy work that puts communities at the center, she is a current policy fellow with the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and serves on the Metropolitan Council’s Housing Policy Planning Work Group. She is one of the founders of the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, which has had an important role in winning support and protections for those facing foreclosure, and of the Northwest Community Collaborative, which is addressing employment, education, and other issues important to communities of color in the Twin Cities’ Northwest suburban region.

As Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator, Nelima will be working with pilot school districts, and with a set of local community organizations in communities of color to build a shared analysis, assessment and action plan to strengthen equity practice and leadership in schools. This pilot is part of a state level campaign and commitment from the Minnesota Department of Education to explore ways to recognize equity practice as part of how excellence is defined in schools. This project was developed and is led by the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative (EEOC), which includes 11 organizations or organizing projects in communities of color. The EEOC is convened and staffed by the Organizing Apprenticeship Project. Learn more about the project here.

Welcome Nelima!