By Education Resource Strategies
Creating equitable outcomes for all students requires identifying and exposing existing inequities within school systems. One shining example is Columbus City Schools, which appointed Dr. Dionne Blue in 2020 as its first Chief Equity Officer to address equity and inclusion for all students, families, employees, and community.
But what does this role actually look like in practice? And how does someone become a Chief Equity Officer?
We reached out to Dr. Blue to learn more about her background, day-to-day responsibilities, and thoughts on the state of equity in education.
1. What interested you in the Chief Equity Officer role in Columbus City Schools? Why is this role important to you?
I’ve been doing Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work in some form or fashion for almost 20 years. When a position arose in Columbus that would allow me to activate my understanding of equity and its application to systems work, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. This role is important to me because it would be the first time I’m able to really address equity in my position with a fully resourced department. In the past I have been a one-person office, without the type of support I would need to truly make transformational progress. With the commitment of the Superintendent and the School Board, I now have the bandwidth needed to impact change, particularly across a district of this size.
2. Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
A typical day for me has changed from week to week, and year to year, just because of the impact of the pandemic and the logistics of building my team. My hope is that beginning next year, a typical day looks more “typical.” My assumption, based on the direction of the work, is that a typical day would involve outreach to school leaders, conducting professional development for school teams or departments, networking with other Equity leaders across the state and country, and brainstorming meetings with my staff as we continue to examine processes and develop best practices for the equity work of the district. I like to be available for staff and community members who want to talk, express their concerns, or seek support, so I keep a calendar scheduling link in my email signature so that others can schedule themselves for anything from a 15 minute download to a full hour meeting. But I also have to protect windows of time on my calendar for focused work so that we can keep projects moving forward.
3. Can you tell us about a project you recently worked on that you’re really proud of?
As it happens, very recently I successfully passed our equity policy through a first reading with the school board. The policy has been in various drafts for some time, but with the input and feedback of colleagues, my team, thought partners, and stakeholders, I was able to get a finalized draft in front of the board that we could all be happy with. It sets the tone for our commitment to equitable opportunities for all, but also memorializes our approach to equity as a district, which is a focus on students, staff, and systems. With that foundational task complete, we can begin to move forward in crafting what it looks like in real time.
4. What do you think the biggest equity challenges are for school districts today?
Post-pandemic in particular, the biggest equity challenges seem to be that the depth and breadth of the needs of both students and adults in every school district across the country has grown exponentially. No longer are schools so clearly distinct in terms of need and the typical binary way that we see that need — the “haves” and the “have nots.” Right now it seems that the needs are great and diverse no matter the student demographics. This is also an interesting challenge related to equity in the sense that, once those needs expand to atypical populations, we begin to see greater support, advocacy, and resources directed at the overall population.
5. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about public education, what would it be?
That is a tricky one, because I would be inclined to make my “one thing” a paragraph-long, run-on sentence! In all seriousness, one thing that should really change about public education is the ability of politicians — who are themselves not educators — to set mandates and parameters for public education that can often end up crippling our ability to best serve our most vulnerable. My magic wand would make it so you cannot make decisions about public education unless you are in public education.
Are you a Chief Equity Officer or senior equity leader looking to tackle resource inequities in your district? Our Advancing Education Resource Equity Network (AEREN) cohort program, co-hosted with the National Equity Project, can help. The monthly cohort meetings, 1:1 executive coaching, and resource equity diagnostic are designed to help equity leaders accelerate progress on equitable resource allocation in their district. Contact ERS Partner Betty Chang to learn more.
Education Resource Strategies is a national non-profit that partners with district, school, and state leaders to transform how they use resources (people, time, and money) so that every school prepares every child for tomorrow, no matter their race or income. Learn more at www.erstrategies.org/