Reflection on CSI’s Equity Initiatives

As we enter April – Celebrate Diversity Month – and continue to process the recent racially-based violence, I have been reflecting even more about our role as leaders and educators in addressing inequities within our schools and organizations.

To start, I should acknowledge that we have much more to learn and accomplish as individuals and as an organization in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet, I am extremely proud of the many steps – big and small, individually and collectively – we are taking to move forward in this very important work.

Over the past year, I have been excited and inspired by the collaborative efforts and commitment of the CSI Board and staff in appreciating the diversity within our organization and portfolio and working to advance equity in many ways.

Our Continued Board Commitment

In 2015, the CSI board passed Board Resolution 1549, which affirmed CSI’s commitment to closing the opportunity gap and charge staff with increasing and improving services for students. Since then, the CSI staff have actively worked across many fronts to address the opportunity gap.

serving all students

This past fall, the CSI Board of Directors passed a resolution on CSI’s Commitment to Equity. The CSI Board made a commitment to:

  • Apply an equity lens in decision-making,
  • Prioritize diversity on the Board and in Board Officer positions, and
  • Hold CSI staff accountable for pursuing equity within the organization and among the CSI portfolio of schools.

The Board also directed CSI staff to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into the organizational goals, consider organizational policies to advance DEI within the organization and within the CSI portfolio of schools, and to advance diverse opportunities in charter schools and charter school models.

Defining our Terms

Essential to this process was defining what we as an organization meant by the term equity. The CSI board asked staff to bring forth a definition of “equity” that we could use in advancing our commitment. Through a months-long, collaborative process, CSI staff drafted working definitions for diversity, equity, and inclusion, recognizing the importance of the closely related terms.

The CSI Board has established a committee to work with staff on finalizing definitions for “diversity”, “equity”, and “inclusion” and will devote time at their June Board Retreat to outline next steps in this equity work.

Advancing Equity in Authorizing

We know one of the greatest opportunities for impacting change is by starting with our own processes and practices.  Here are a few of the ways we have been working to advance our authorizing practice with a focus on equity:

Charter School Application Process

CSI’s new school application process has historically engaged external reviewers in the application review process to add additional perspective and expertise to the CSI Review Team. These external reviewers may have knowledge related to proposed school programming, education or board expertise, or bring a unique cultural perspective.

This past year, CSI has also engaged in additional reviewer training and learning opportunities. For example, as part of the application review process for a charter school proposing to locate on a reservation, CSI partnered with a tribe member to learn more about the history and culture of the tribe. Additionally, as CSI received interest from multiple applicants seeking to offer online programs, CSI partnered with CDE’s Office of Online and Blended Learning to learn more about the online school landscape in Colorado.

While these initiatives have been more reviewer-oriented, we have also kicked off a more comprehensive review of our application processes and content. CSI staff are engaging in a review of the charter application process and materials to inform any substantive revisions that will take effect beginning the 2022-23 cycle. Learning from our fellow authorizers who have done similar revisions, we will be thinking about questions such as:

  • How are diverse stakeholders empowered throughout the pre-application, application, and new school development processes?
  • To what extent do existing application items garner responses that prioritize equity and recognize existing disparities?
Student Services Screener

The Student Services Department and the Evaluation and Assessment Department are currently collaborating to review the Student Services Screener and its indicators to ensure the screener can best meet the needs of our schools. Some proposed changes include:

  • Shifting language to ensure it is inclusive,
  • Considering what data is being collected, specifically how certain populations are compared to other subgroups (i.e., comparing ELL students to non-ELL students), and
  • How tiered supports can consider both qualitative and quantitative data
Contract Milestones

CSI uses contract milestones to monitor a school’s progress towards addressing areas of concern or areas requiring further development. While these are most commonly found in new school contracts, CSI has also built milestones into contracts for renewals and expansions when needed.

CSI has established a new school milestone to monitor schools’ progress towards serving all students and enrolling diverse populations. If new schools do not meet their projected enrollment, they must submit a plan to meet their projected enrollment over time. This past renewal cycle, a similar milestone was set for all renewal schools. This is an opportunity to prioritize school communities and meet the promises set forth in the application.

Cultivating Partnerships

In addition to the equity-focused authorizing work we have been doing, we have also partnered with like-minded educational organizations to expand the reach of this work.

To this end, CSI has partnered with the Colorado Department of Education to offer a six-part Equal Access Webinar Series. This series highlights equitable practices for multilingual and multicultural learners in order to equip authorizers and charter school leaders with the support needed to ensure that charter schools are open to all students and there are no barriers to access for diverse students in school policies or programs.

  • The first session of this webinar series: School Policy Review Through a Multicultural Lens, was recorded on February 10. Justo Yanez and Jessica Welch of CSI facilitated an introductory session on spearheading a review of school policies for equitable practices for multicultural learners.
  • The second session, Identifying and Addressing Enrollment Barriers to Multilingual Families, took place on March 10. Justo Yanez, Jessica Welch, and Stephanie Aragon of CSI facilitated this session, giving participants an overview of how to ensure their enrollment policies are legally compliant and equity focused.
  • The third session, ELD Implementation and Program Evaluation, took place on March 17. Greg Nusz of CSI facilitated this session focused on a program improvement cycle – practice selection, implementation, and evaluation – for bilingual programming at schools.
  • Upcoming sessions include:
    • Equal Access Series Session 4: Equity of Access and Outcomes Screener for Special Populations | Date: April 20, 2021 | Time: 10:00am-11:30am | Register Here
    • Equal Access Series Session 5: ELD Accurate Identification | Date: May 5, 2021 | Time: 10:00am-11:30am | Register Here
    • Equal Access Series Session 6: Accountability for Non-Traditional School Models | Date: May 10, 2021 | Time: 10:00am- 11:15am | Register Here

 These sessions will be posted to the Schools of Choice website soon.

Internal Initiatives

Last, but certainly not least, CSI staff members have also committed to equity work internally.

Equity Coffee Chats

Justo Yanez, CSI School Improvement and Equity Specialist, has led optional “Equity Coffee Chats” for interested staff members. These meetings are a chance for staff to convene in a space to discuss issues related to equity.

Book & Podcast Clubs

Several CSI staff members have also been participating in a book club for the past few months. CSI staff meet twice to discuss a book each month, with an aim to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. So far, staff has read:

Staff members have also listened to podcasts and met to discuss them with a DEI lens:

While the steps we have taken so far are a start, we know that striving for equity will always be a part of our work. We will continue to look for ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization, in our schools, and with our partners.

We also welcome the opportunity for our schools and partners to share their journeys in advancing equity within their schools and organizations.

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