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Strategically Investing in Systemic Equity

Superintendent Joe GothardDear colleagues,

In 2018, I sought support from the Board of Education to create a strategic plan. I did not begin my tenure with the ink dry on my ideas for this plan. Countless stakeholder engagement opportunities and review of past community engagement informed the strategic framework that was approved by the Board that year. This framework identified long-term strategic outcomes supported by a set of metrics to chart our progress. 

A successful operating referendum in 2018 provided additional resources to implement the strategic initiatives within five key focus areas: Positive School and District Culture, Effective and Culturally Relevant Instruction, College and Career Readiness, Program Evaluation/Resource Allocation, and Family and Community Engagement. These focus areas continue to provide the structure for much of our work across the district.

Strategic plans are living documents that are meant to be modified and updated. The necessary work to improve long-term student outcomes in SPPS requires a steadfast commitment to equity. SPPS Achieves relied implicitly on this belief, but it didn’t put our equity journey at the forefront.

The first year’s progress report revealed few significant improvements in long-term student outcomes. While our strategic plan aims to improve the experiences and outcomes for students that have been historically underserved in SPPS, students of color and those who receive specialized or English learner services carry on in a school system that continues to struggle to equitably meet their needs. 

Back in the 2019-20 school year, SPPS created a District Equity Committee. Board Chair Jeanelle Foster, Assistant Director Myla Pope and I worked with staff, students, parents and community members to address this persistent problem with a sense of urgency: Why do historically underserved students have to wait for a school system to change to ensure their success?

The end of that historic school year introduced hardships that were impossible to prepare for. Seemingly overnight, we had to drastically change our system to serve students who were now forced into distance learning. In those first days, weeks and months, we developed systems to ensure our students had devices and could connect to the internet. We made sure they had the necessary materials to engage in learning. And in one of the greatest examples of overcoming inequity, staff came together across departments to create new ways to distribute food to families in an effort that can only be described as amazing. 

I’ve reflected often on the sense of urgency and purpose that our SPPS community rallied around in the spring of 2020. Our collective focus became identifying and removing barriers for students to succeed—equitably. Following a forced pause, the District Equity Committee reconvened to continue our work of identifying inequities in SPPS and developing recommendations to remove them. The committee presented its findings to the Board in June of 2021.

I knew that these and many other examples of equity work were taking place in SPPS on a regular basis. But I also knew that SPPS Achieves was not designed to support systemic equity in a cohesive or centralized way. For this reason, Systemic Equity was added as our sixth strategic focus area to ensure we are committed to identifying AND removing barriers that prevent students from being successful.   

Simultaneously, SPPS was working to develop a plan for the $207 million in American Rescue Plan funding we were allocated to come back from the pandemic and better serve our students. Nearly $10 million of this total is being invested in systemic equity work, including the creation of a district equity plan, recruiting and retaining more teachers of color, and continuing our work in culturally responsive instruction. MDE granted final approval of our ARP plan last week, and I am proud that our commitment to equity at SPPS will only continue to grow from here.  

In partnership,

Joe Gothard, Superintendent