It is a simple but devastating truth that our education system was designed to fail Black and brown students. Systemic racism and the trauma it causes holds our students back—and it’s past time for meaningful change. At Eskolta, we recognize that the work of dismantling white supremacy in our education system must begin with ourselves and our organization.
That’s why during the 2020-21 year, Eskolta engaged in a number of initiatives to deepen our capacity and internal alignment around Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI). Our goal in 2020 was to first uncover and honestly address issues related to race and equity impacting our organization internally. This process was difficult and not without missteps, but ultimately provided a path to build new systems that will ensure meaningful change for our staff, as well as the schools and districts we partner with. This work is ongoing, and we remain deeply committed to continuing to grow and incorporate our REDI values as an organization.
Our REDI work has included both internal and external initiatives.
- We know how important the right leadership is. In the past year we began an organizational restructuring, hiring a new executive director in July 2021. Dr. Nada Ahmed brings more than 21 years of experience in equity, anti-racist, and community building work to Eskolta. Alongside her, we hired Tashaka Wynter, director of operations, and Beshon Trusty, chief partnership and impact officer. Together with director of Eskolta Boston Jamel Adkins-Sharif, Eskolta’s leadership team—now all BIPOC members—brings a wealth of expertise in strategy, program design, academic research, and education policy that will guide our organization in the next phase of its journey.
- With the support of NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, we developed a new set of organizational values, grounding our approach in antiracism and Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education (CRSE). This statement has become a critical guiding text we revisit to ground our planning for both internal and external work.
- We focused deeply on creating an equitable organizational culture. We addressed inequities in staff salary and compensation, established more transparent hiring and promotion processes and developed uniform onboarding processes.
- Our team made REDI-focused professional development a priority. Eskolta staff engaged in trainings on CRSE, using youth participatory action research methodologies, Restorative Justice/Transformative Justice, inclusive leadership, equity-focused data collection and analysis, and more. We are continually building a more nuanced understanding of race and culture with a goal of improving educational outcomes for every student.
- The Eskolta DEI Council engaged in a range of important activities, including conducting surveys and interviews with current and past employees to better understand the diversity and inclusion climate at Eskolta.
Values Statement – Working Draft:
At Eskolta, we believe that high-quality culturally responsive sustaining education is a fundamental human right and a mechanism for liberation and justice. We are committed to interrupting racist, culturally destructive systems by sharing power in schools and our own organizational practices, and challenging deficit-based mindsets that have created disproportionality. We envision learning spaces and systems grounded in connection, joy, self-reflection, integrity, collaboration, critical action, and trust that center the humanity and contributions of BIPOC and other marginalized communities.
Our internal work has—and will continue to—help us better serve our students, educators, schools and districts. In 2020-21, we were excited to redesign the Eskolta Network professional development curriculum to embed CRSE and CSLP theoretical models into our work. These updates help partners reflect on their role in education and as anti-racist advocates, at the self, interpersonal, and systemic levels so they can then connect those reflections to beliefs and teaching practices. Our aim with this shift is to help educators create practices and classroom environments that affirm the racial, linguistic, and cultural identities of students and to bring students into the process of redesigning education as co-creators and co-researchers.
As part of our continuous learning, we also administered NYU’s Perspectives on Race & Culture Survey to all Eskolta Network participants and shared team- and Network-wide results with schools. These steps are helping our team discover what focus areas are most important within our network—guiding us in our future exploration, learning, and reflection.
Finally, this fall, we began recruiting for Eskolta’s first Youth Advisory Board, recruiting a group of current and former alternative school students who will give voice to the student experience and shape how Eskolta works with educators and schools to support young people in culturally responsive and sustaining ways. The board will offer a combination of a traditional advisory board experience with a facilitated youth participatory action research (YPAR) program focused on interrogating and building skills around youth leadership.
Through critical self-reflection, challenging conversations, community building, and the continual re-alignment of our work to our values, we are making steps in redefining Eskolta’s future and impact on education. And though much remains to be done—becoming an antiracist organization is an ongoing process—we are committed to walking this journey together.