In early March, UI Educational Consultant, Bruce Douglas, attended the South by Southwest Edu (SXSW EDU) Conference in Austin, Texas. Although this was Bruce's fourth year attending the conference, this year was special as he had the honor of watching his submitted panel session, titled "Equality vs. Equity: What's the Difference?" come to life. Bruce recruited three superintendents, from large and diverse school districts, who are widely considered equity trailblazers in the education arena.
Panelists included Mr. Mark Bedell of Kansas City Public Schools, Mr. Paul Cruz of Austin Independent School District, and Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora of Tomball Independent School District. Dr. Salazar-Zamora brought supplementary expertise and experiences to the panel as she additionally is the President of Texas Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (TALAS). Lastly, moderating the conversation was PCG's Senior Consultant, Paul Wilson. Paul brought his wealth of knowledge to the table as the Vice Chair of the Florida Council on the social status of black men and boys.
Left to right: Mark Bedell, Martha Salazar-Zamora, Paul Cruz, Bruce Douglas, and Paul Wilson
As superintendents of their respected school districts, each panelist discussed their thoughts and efforts to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to a quality education in order to succeed in life. To answer the question the session wholly surrounded by, Paul Cruz noted, "Equal is math; its the same. Equity is social justice and what's needed to make sure all students have a level playing field and where they are demonstrating their genius." He also emphasized, "All are welcome, and all means all."
Through the session, the panelist were given an opportunity to talk about the concepts they are implementing in their school district to mitigate many of these circumstances that are impacting under-served populations. Additionally, panelists discussed their own personal stories and experiences that have shaped their perspective on equality, equity, and liberation, especially while growing up.
"I dropped out of school in the second grade because a teacher told me I was dumb, ugly and would never amount to anything," says Mark Bedell. "The teacher knew she could get away with it because there was nobody that was going to come and advocate for me."
Engaged spectators took to Twitter to discuss their thoughts about the panel session. For example, Mary Jo Madda tweeted, "Man, this is an incredible panel - Three superintendents, all people of color (one of which was the first minority supt in her district), talking about equity vs. equality. #sxswedu... Can't you have more panels like this??"
While moderator Paul Wilson said, "The Superintendents were probably the most passionate and candid group of contributors I've ever had the pleasure of moderating. This was a riveting conversation with concrete action steps being taken to mitigate issues."
The session was presented by Bruce and the My Brothers Keeper (MBK) National Forum. The Forum was created so district leaders across the country can virtually share best practices to provide equitable outcomes for students of color to a constituent base of over five hundred members. It connects educators and equity leaders that are committed to providing equitable student outcomes. They often hold National MBK webinars, workshops, and sessions, such as the session that can be found in late April by following their Twitter account.
As the Forum's Executive Director, Bruce said, "The energy and passion from the panelists took the conversation and audience engagement to another level. The MBK Forum has again positioned themselves as international leaders on providing equitable student outcomes for students of color in K-12 education."
The session also gained local media coverage that can be read via the Austin American-Statesman. To hear the full session recording, travel to the session summary.