A Superintendent’s Approach to Hard Conversations
On the most recent episode of the Education Today podcast, Dr. Rod Berger spoke with Dr. A. Katrise Perera, Superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon, to have an important conversation about education’s role in advancing the topic of social justice and what we value as human beings. Perera has always been passionate about the subject, and recent events have only increased the intensity of her district’s efforts.
According to Perera, educators in the U.S. need to be aware of the social context affecting the students they are teaching. She describes the focus on combining and blending social justice with cultural responsiveness and sustaining that focus to promote equity for all learners. She asks, “How do we unlearn and blend things together to best help our students?” She later adds, “We are not going to get through this by celebrating holidays and heroes.”
The district has relied on Zaretta Hammond’s work in culturally responsive teaching and the brain. More than ever, there is a focus on infusing multiculturalism with education and the social justice piece to become culturally responsive. Hammond’s work has done a great deal to close the achievement gaps in diverse classrooms and bring a framework for optimizing all student learning.
In Perera’s eyes, the social and political context should be a part of every education program, including higher education. All stakeholders in the community are part of the solution – teachers, students, parents, grandparents, and all caregivers. She extends additional advice to non-BIPoC parents to offer greater insight but, more importantly, to act as a guide to action. Perera shares the following information that she recently presented to her leadership team:
• Watch the documentary “13th” (Netflix) start to finish and please ask a white family member or friend to join you in this commitment (and discuss it after)
• Read this post from Refinery 29: “Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not”
• Watch this clip: “Trevor Noah and the Dominos of Racial Injustice“:
• Read the attached piece White People-What We Can Do and come up with three actions you have taken (from this list or your own ideas) both personally and professionally to take a much bolder stance against racism and white supremacy than you have before. Keep in mind, it is to a broad white audience, not just educators or leaders. It’s to get your wheels turning and help to help you engage in actions and ways of being you may not have done or considered before as white people.
To hear more insights from Dr. Perera, listen to the latest episode of the Education Today podcast presented by Soundtrap: Social Justice Conversations Need to Be Bold, Direct & Authentic. The episode also features an in-depth interview with Baruti Kafele, known professionally as Principal Kafele, a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and Milken Award-winning educator. Kafele addresses head-on the strategies we need to have social justice conversations with students.
About Dr. A. Katrise Perera
Dr. Perera is the Superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon. Prior to this role, she was national director of the urban markets division with McGraw Hill Education and superintendent of the Isle of Wight County Schools in Smithfield, Virginia for four years. During that time she received the National Association of School Superintendents 2015 Superintendent of the Year Award.
Dr. Perera’s extensive experience as an educator includes classroom teacher, middle school principal, and area/regional superintendent of the Houston Independent School District which serves more than 200,000 students.
Follow Dr. A. Katrise Perera on Twitter @akperera
Dr. Rod Berger is the CEO of MindRocket Media Group and Educate4Health. He is an education and health care industry strategist having covered thought leadership for Forbes, Scholastic, The Huffington Post, AmericanEdTV and edCircuit. He serves as a Strategic Advisor to the Refugee & Migrant Education Network and EduLuk (Sambhav Softtech Pvt Ltd) in India.
In his education media work, he has interviewed top education thought leaders like Sir Ken Robinson, former United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and more than 500 global education influencers.
Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter @drrodberger
- Pamplin Media Group – ‘As a learning community, WE CAN DO BETTER’
- Anchor – Social Justice Conversations Need to Be Bold, Direct & Authentic
- The Washington Post – Stuck at home? Now’s the time to have these important talks with your kids