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School board goes through equity training

NEW ULM — The New Ulm School Board took the first step in reaching a goal of creating a more equitable district, Thursday.

The district recently approved a new three-year strategic plan. One of the key priorities of the plan is to create equitable education for all. To achieve the goal, the district has to define equity and what does that means for the district.

Equity means “the quality of being fair and impartial” but applying this philosophy to education can be a challenge in a community with divergent cultural and social-economic backgrounds.”

Bridgid Moriarty-Guerrero and Ben Rayer of Longview Education led the board through exercises on equity.

Superintendent Jeff Bertrang describes this process as personalized learning for the school board.

Rayer said the consultants wanted to present a productive conversation about equity. A challenge of talking about equity is, it can create a situation where different groups retreat in the corners and relitigate past mistakes or refuse to move forward out of shame or fear of change.

“That leads us to paralysis to do anything about it,” Rayer said. “What we want to do is put together a process for people to come together and understand that equity is not equal.”

Rayer said some feel moving to equity is a zero-sum game, but he said it doesn’t have to be.

“Everybody needs different things to be successful,” he said. “You can’t treat every child the same way. They need different things.”

Moriarty-Guerrero began the presentation with basic brain science and cognitive psychology. She explained the human brain is designed to process information by recognizing patterns. Pattern recognition is always going on and can be valuable, but can sometimes lead to overgeneralization. This can create problems like racial stereotyping.

One method for obtaining equity in education is being aware of how the district gathers information.

The board members took part in a small group exercise. Each member of the group saw a photo of an object taken from a different angle, but no single person was able to see all the photos. The groups had to determine what the object was by describing what each saw.

Some groups successfully guessed the object was a plant, but none were able to determine it was a bell pepper.

Moriarty-Guerrero said trying to create equity is similar to this exercise. Describing a complex issue from multiple perspectives takes time and requires new skills.

Another obstacle was the debate vs. deliberation conflict. In debate, the goal is to win but in deliberation, the goal is to find common ground.

Moriarty-Guerrero pointed out that most schools offer a debate club, but don’t offer a deliberation club. The drive to debate is strong in society and this often pushes one side to try to prove another side is wrong. With equity, the goal is to deliberate and find the common ground.

This was the first study session dedicated to equity training. The board will be working with Longview Education on further training over the next several months.

The next regular board meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, June 24, in the District Boardroom, 414 South Payne Street. The next study session is 5 p.m. Thursday, July 8, in the District Conference Room, 414 South Payne Street.

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