District Launches Equity Task Force
Oxford, Mississippi — In 2019, the Oxford School District defined five core values that would guide its policies, curriculum, and operations – service, support, relationships, excellence, and equity.
For the first time in its history, the district named a Director of Equity – LaTonya Robinson. Robinson was a principal in the OSD for six years and named Administrator of the Year twice. Under her leadership, Della Davidson Elementary was the second-highest performing of all schools in Mississippi. in 2018, Robinson was named by The University of Mississippi School of Education as their "Practioner of Distinction." After leaving the district, Robinson worked in a high poverty school district and led efforts for more equitable attainment of resources and capacity within the teaching staff. Robinson returned to Oxford in 2019 to lead the charge that every student receives an education that is inclusive, fair, and accessible in the OSD.
Since then, the district has been busy with various initiatives to address equity. Robinson's most recent action was the creation of the district's Equity Task Force – a group of staff, parents, and community leaders selected to serve as the sounding board for issues and policy changes to ensure a quality education for ALL students. Serving as task force members are: Brian White Sr., Adrian Shipman, Heather Lenard, Camisha Johnson, Michelle Rudd Toles, Sally Williams, Laura Beth Ellis, Kathryn Hill, Kendedrick Jones, Chris Bush, Sydney McGaha, Jill Knox, Candies Cook, Nancy McCurdy, Ramona Reed, Monica Watson, Linda Vaughn, Patches Calhoun, Chasity Arbuckle, LaJeremy Hughes, Meg Hayden, Katherine Brown, LaTonya Robinson, Sara Green, Jennifer Sullivan.
In 2019, the district deployed the Whole Child approach to its education, training all staff in transitioning from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long-term development and success of all children.
This week, Robinson is hosting the first in a series of five classes for district teachers called “Responsiveness Saturdays” - professional development on a comprehensive model of culturally responsive teaching: a pedagogy that crosses disciplines and cultures to engage learners while respecting their cultural integrity.“Educators have always known that a student's social-emotional learning (SEL) is just as important as academic knowledge, but COVID has reinforced the urgency and made us hyper-focused on SEL,” said Robinson. During the first ten days of the school year, Oxford teachers will complete at least three social-emotional learning in their course content. These activities vary from teaching and respecting boundaries, to listening and conflict resolution skills. The district firmly believes and supports the role of SEL as a critical part of achievement.
District communication has added reporting of equity concerns to their anonymous tip line. By allowing anonymous reporting, the district can be made aware of equity concerns that affect students, parents, and staff that should be addressed systemically or directly.
The district's commitment to equity does not lower standards or show a preference for serving one group of students over others. The focus of equity work is to remove the barriers that limit success for all children. This is the true meaning of equity – acknowledging students’ differences and equipping them with what they need to be successful. The task force will be advocating for equity and modeling the belief that all students can succeed.