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Racial equity at IPS focus of 2-day summit for teachers, staff, students

Hundreds of teachers, staff attend IPS Racial Equity Summit

David Williams | News 8

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds of Indianapolis Public Schools teachers and staff spent time Monday taking part in the district’s second annual Racial Equity Summit on the Marian University campus.

The summit is part of the district’s Racial Equity Initiative. The mission of the initiative is “to lead a collaboration of community members who will partner with IPS to improve outcomes for all students by eliminating racial disproportionality and disparity,” according to the district’s website.

The workshops and presentations were sparked by Superintendent Aleesia Johnson’s announcement of “racial equity mindset” as one the district’s six main priorities this school year. Johnson attends the summit along with the faculty and staff.

One of the eight workshops focused on culturally responsive teaching.

READ: Description of workshops, details about speakers and definitions of words used to discuss racial equity

“Knowing that this is a priority for our district, it just makes you feel hopeful in your work,” said Caitlin Lischer, a kindergarten teacher at Center for Inquiry School 70.

“When we look at the academic outcomes of our students or the discipline data of our students, we see a pattern play out year over year. We have generally white students who are performing best generally in the positive categories and then African-American and LatinX students performing the most in the negative categories. We believe that doesn’t have to be so,” Johnson said Monday.

Johnson says that pattern of academic outcomes plays out across the nation, not just in IPS, where students of color are disproportionately seen with higher suspension rates and disciplinary incidents, lower academic achievements and less representation in advanced classes.

The IPS educators attending the summit said they believe they’ve got a real ability to change those outcomes.

“I have been with IPS almost 58 years, and I have never seen it rise to this level. We are finally at a level where this equity mindset is a priority. We’ve already started implementing some of those strategies. For instance, all new teachers now have to go through equity training,” said Patricia Payne, the director of the Racial Equity Initiative at IPS.

Teachers including Lischer have been exposed to new ways of thinking, such as taking a minute to pause and reflect on what happened before writing student discipline slips.

“Were they not being compliant, basically? Rather than oh, you know, they threw a chair. Like, that is something you can objectively say happened, rather than noncompliance, which can be interpreted different ways,” Lischer said.

The youth portion of the summit, which is new this year, starts Tuesday.