How one St. Paul school is centering race equity

Carrie Bakken, program coordinator and educator at Avalon Charter School in St. Paul, shares how MnEEP helped the school shape a new race equity strategy, and what the process of leading with a race equity lens looks like for the school’s educators and students.

How did your school decide to center race equity in its new strategic plan?

I feel like if we are going to make any progress on these issues, and I know educators are desperate to make progress on the issues on racial justice and racial equity —you can’t be an educator and working with kids online and not just see that there is just so much injustice—if you want to disrupt any of what we are living in right now, you have to make it a focus. And it can’t be an “extra.”

If you make it a value front and center, then you can’t keep denying it. You have to look it at and do what it takes to address it.

What did re-envisioning a strategic plan look like? What does that process look like?

I have been through a number of strategic planning iterations— I have been with Avalon nearly 20 years—but this one was different. What MnEEP offered was way more grounding in vision instead of process.

When you do a typical strategic planning exercise with facilitators, they have a very specific process, but [Jennfier Godinez, MnEEP Associate Director] did was really push us. She asked us, “To what end? What does a just world look like?”

She did future reimagining with us. So much of education is about one student outdoing another, but this helped to reshape our strategy as future-forward. What kind of world do we want to build? What kind of world do we want our students to build?

How did that new way of thinking change or shape your mission?

You could say equity was in our first mission, but you would have to read between the lines.

Old Mission:

Avalon School prepares students for college and life in a strong, nurturing community that inspires active learning, engaged citizenship, and hope for the future.

New Mission:

Avalon School seeks to establish a just world by nurturing an equitable school community for students that inspires active learning, social justice, engaged citizenship, and hope for the future.

Equity and justice can’t be add-ons. They have to be embedded. Now we can look at our work differently. We can be intentional and ask of everything we do, how does this support and serve our mission?  You have to prioritize equity and justice.

How do you bring this work to life? How do you operationalize it and ensure its part of the school’s work every day?

We have to come with a critical lens to all of the data…and broadly. We have to look at the pieces we can be proactive about. We know that engaging community resources is something that does really well for our students.

Sometimes the only community connections we see are ones that serve our white students—and that must change.

We have to be intentional about these goals and what they mean—in community resources, supports; tech access; safety; health—and how to achieve them.

Right now, we are working heavily with [poet and educator] Sun Yung Shin around culturally responsive learning.

We know that as we shift this work, we have to be explicit. We have to be real. We can’t make excuses for data. It’s like, ok, this is it. This is real. And now what?

I try to remember, we don’t have to accept things as they are. This is part of that work.

What’s surprised you most about this process—or this reimagining of the future for your school, and your students?

I think what it comes down to, is we are asking for small acts of hope. And this really feels like that. You don’t have to go into this work with fear. To me, this work should never be drudgery. If you look at the nonviolent protests, how fearless people had to be. That’s so essential to this work. That fearlessness.

Shame is powerful, but it doesn’t have to be. For white people, they might feel uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be when you remember that it’s about hope, for our students and the future. When you can tap into that instead of shame and fear, that’s how the work gets done.

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