Re-opening School With Equity at the Center

“We are an anti-racist school.”

LaTanya Barrett (2019 Neubauer Fellow), principal of Harrity Elementary School, Mastery Charter emphasized that the Equity X Design framework has been key to Harrity’s success in re-opening the school building.

Planning for re-opening started with equity at the center.  Barrett provided space for all stakeholders to weigh in, including town halls to gather community input and weekly meetings to solicit staff feedback and share guidance from experts on ventilation, COVID-19, and human resources.

Barrett made a promise to her families, “Aspects of this pandemic could interrupt instruction. Even if we get a positive case, my goal is that we have the least amount of interruption to instruction as possible.” Barrett held fast to that promise because it was critical both for achievement and “to build normalcy for our families and kids.”

The Harrity team adopted only model practices. They thought through every building detail and classroom procedure, including how students travel in/out/through the building, how to monitor every student and team member for health issues, and much more. With an eye to equity, they ensured every classroom is a model of technology, efficiency, and safety.  The team built a model classroom to demonstrate exactly what is expected.  Barrett strategically considered how to deploy every single staff person – this means that even she, as principal, steps in as necessary across grades.

Staff assess student learning needs weekly through numerous interactive platforms like Zearn, iReady, and Nearpod. They receive instant results, hold data meetings, plan for learning acceleration, and identify strategies to support students.  They utilize every moment of the day to assess, adjust, and implement strategies to improve outcomes.

Just a week after returning, 16 Harrity students witnessed a deadly shooting at the recreation center across the street from school. Students ran for their lives, many only escaping due to the unique layout of the space. Through this tragedy, Barrett realized the key role their school plays in the community. Now that kids returned to the building, Barrett sees in a new way how excited, committed, and incredibly resilient the students are. “I knew school was really important to kids, but I didn’t realize how integral it was to their overall well-being, socialization, and relationship to peers and teachers. We are a consistent space of love, empowerment, and high expectations. We provide space that nurtures kids’ hearts, and we are an extension of their village.”

Barrett also recognizes her teachers as leaders. In the midst of everything going on, teachers focused on how to create an anti-racist school. “Teachers built our vision. They created and led a teacher advocacy group to build trust across differences. They trained each other on how to become disrupters of racism within their spheres of influence.” Staff apply learnings from professional development immediately to practice, which results in a welcoming, inclusive, and anti-racist school.

Given the many challenges of this school year, Barrett knew something had to be different. She worked hard to listen to her stakeholders, implement innovative solutions, actively engage teachers, and rise to be the leader she knew was needed in this moment. The result? Students returned to school dancing, smiling, and ready to learn.