This, as it turned out, was not a final project report on a year’s worth of study.
What the Kansas City fellows in the 2018-2019 Education Policy Fellowship Program presented in their final scheduled time together this summer was more of a launch party of things to come.
When it comes to their chosen mission of championing education policy through a lens of equity, these EPFP fellows made it clear: We’re just getting started.
“Sometimes,” said EPFP fellow and Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely, “a unique gathering of people with a unique set of backgrounds and experiences and stories coalesce together and do some really important work that will impact kids.
“And we believe — we believe — that this is this group.”
EPFP has been gathering and growing new civic leaders for more than 50 years from an array of public and private sectors around a common passion to improve education. LINC and the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City joined to revive the Missouri-Kansas chapter in 2014.
The 2018-2019 team of 21 fellows drew on their rich personal histories, like Kansas City’s Lee A. Tolbert Charter School Superintendent Vivian Roper’s experience of attending a previously all-white elementary school after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education of Topeka desegregation ruling of 1954 — only to see her new school and neighborhood become entirely black by her sixth grade graduation.
Their work in pursuit of fairness and inclusion for all students is informed by understood realities, said EPFP fellow Samara Crawford Herrera, the Kansas City Public Schools’ manager of partnerships, advocacy and engagement.
“What we’re talking about today,” she said, “is the weaponization of unconscious biases.”
Shawnee Mission School District Director of Family & Student Services John McKinney outlined the group’s understanding of equity:
“Educational equity means that every student has equal access to a quality education that prepares them for a meaningful career, postsecondary learning, and engaged citizenship in our country and in the world.
“This,” he said, “is what every child deserves regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family income or ZIP code.”
This will be collaborative work, not just between the EPFP fellows, but with the many individuals, groups and communities that have made equitable education part of their mission, said EPFP fellow Ray Weikal, KCPS manager of public relations and marketing.
“We want all these smart people that are out there doing great work around the country to be part of this process,” he said. “That’s what’s going to drive us as we move forward.”
Several of those potential collaborators were in the room, watching the EPFP presentation, aware of the challenges ahead.
“These are emotional things we are talking about,” said Michelle Wimes, an attorney and the chief diversity and professional development officer at Ogletree Deakins.
“These are people’s children that you are dealing with,” she said. “These are parents who are impacted by this.”
Wimes was encouraged by what she heard, she said, but she spoke for everybody about the work still to come, saying, “these conversations are really, really difficult.”