A CONVERSATION WITH DR. ELIZABETH ALVAREZ, SUPERINTENDENT OF FOREST PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT 91
SEPTEMBER 2022 | Dr. Christina Kishimoto
Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez, Superintendent of Forest Park District 91 in Illinois, believes that education equity begins with providing students of color access to learning opportunities in which they can see themselves. She believes that students of color need to learn about the wealth of contributions of people of color to both this nation’s history and our global society. “Liz” knows there is no equity in silence, invisibility, or erasure. Representation must be by design. Intentional. This requires commitment by education decision-makers beginning with the board and superintendent.
As Dr. Alvarez shares her story of leadership, listen to her description of the dichotomy between the joy of leadership and the challenges of leading an American institution that still has far to go in its equity design. Dr. Alvarez tells us unabashedly the difference it makes that she has a supportive board, a team of educators committed to students, and a ready community willing to do the hard work of reframing for equity and inclusion. Listen also for what she has to say about the relationship between equity, curriculum and belonging. Dr. Alvarez is our featured voice for equity, because first and foremost she believes every student should have pride and joy for who they are.
“I decided to make that step to superintendency mainly because I was scared. The fear said, if you’re fearful, you need to do it. And I was fearful because there were not many people of color in the superintendency.”
— Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez
Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez, Superintendent of Forest Park District 91 in Illinois, believes that education equity begins with providing students of color access to learning opportunities in which they can see themselves.
Back to school is one of the busiest times for educators. Therefore, wellness tends to be low on the list of priorities. Even though we are aware of the importance of self-care, we may feel selfish for taking time for ourselves when so many other things need to be done.
Self-care has seemingly become synonymous with self-indulgence, such as bubble baths, mani-pedis, and massages. While those activities can absolutely be part of a self-care ritual, self-care is more than that. Self-care is any activity that leads to overall physical and mental health. It includes all the activities and rituals one can take to manage everyday stressors and care for one’s overall health and well-being. While self-care is different for everyone, it requires checking in and asking, how am I doing, and what do I need at this moment?
“While self-care is different for everyone, it requires checking in and asking, how am I doing, and what do I need at this moment?”
— Tiana Hill
For me, this looks like joining a virtual fitness class, taking walks with my pup, enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea, journaling, and reading a great book. These activities are vital to my mental and physical health. And what makes them so great is that I don’t need to spend an hour doing any of those activities to reap the benefits. Instead, ten minutes a day is enough to reset the nervous system (even less than ten minutes). Here’s a study that found that ten minutes is enough to get the blood flowing for cardiovascular health.
Ten minutes is a great start to build a new daily routine. And maybe you add on a few more minutes if you have the time and energy. Maybe not. But don’t do nothing because you can’t do more.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
A 10-minute walk before or after work or during a lunch break.
Breathwork you can do anywhere, anytime. Try this box breathing technique for as little as two to three minutes to experience the benefits of a calm body and mind.
As leaders, one of the best ways to support our educator’s well-being is to help them protect those precious 10 minutes. So how can we ensure they have a few minutes each day to reset? I would love to hear from you. Send me an email @ email@example.com and tell me how you protect the ten (#protecttheten), and you may be featured in our next newsletter.
Our Q&A this month is with Shawn Brown-Brumfield, author of The Purpose Driven School and founder of Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School in Pasadena, California. Shawn advocates for health and well-being and encourages her educators to make self-care a daily habit. Read our chat here.
Until next time, be well.
Q&A WITH A PURPOSE DRIVEN LEADER
SEPTEMBER 2022 | TIANA HILL
Shawn Brown-Brumfield is a lifelong educator and lover of travel. She has spent over 25 years dedicated to improving student learning with particular attention to closing the achievement gap.
Shawn founded the Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School over 15 years ago with the idea that all students should have access to the highest quality education available. She infused her love of travel by making wonderful travel experiences available to her students. She has taken students to New York, Costa Rica, China, Washington D.C., and all over California.
Shawn has captured her 25 years of educational experience in her newly published book, The Purpose Driven School.
Congratulations on celebrating 15 years of Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School. And congratulations on writing and publishing your book. Those are two extraordinary accomplishments.
What led you to found Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School?
I founded Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School to address a need to educate students with excellence. I was teaching language arts and social studies to middle school students, and I found that there were many students of color who were reading 2-3 years below grade level and could barely write a paragraph. It was evident that they were capable, and I could see that there were gaps in their education. I knew that I could not affect change in a large bureaucratical educational system, so I decided to start a K-8 school in an effort to provide students with a strong academic foundation that would allow them to be successful in high school and beyond.
The education system has continuously seen a divide in student achievement rates for our culturally diverse student population and their white peers, especially in urban schools where students may lack socioeconomic resources and where teacher bias is often rooted in racial, cultural, and class stereotypes.
What has been your experience in student achievement since founding Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter School?
It has been my experience that all students can learn at a high level. I am very intentional in my hiring practices. I ensure that I hire teachers and staff members who believe that all children can learn and will hold all students to high standards. It is important to me that teachers do not possess cultural or racial biases that will prevent them from educating students of color with excellence. As an educational team, we help our students develop a positive self-image so that they see themselves as intelligent and high academic achievers, which will give them the confidence and encouragement to perform well on standardized assessments.
There have been many policies in place that foster racism, for example, the school-to-prison pipeline, banning race-based hairstyles, and banning books.
How did founding Pasadena Rosebud Academy Charter uncover the educational system’s institutional inequities?
I became aware of the policies in place that foster racism and inequities when I entered the field of education as a teacher. Students of color who qualified for gifted classes were not placed in them, even if their parents requested the placement. Many teachers stereotyped students of color and held them to low standards.
When I founded Rosebud Academy, it became clear that the inequities, biases, and colonial ideas continue to persist in schools because when students transfer from other schools to matriculate at Rosebud Academy, they typically come performing below grade level. The gross deficit in student performance levels makes it clear that schools are not challenging students of color.
What is the mission behind your book, The Purpose Driven School?
The mission of The Purpose Driven School is to help educators and educational stakeholders create great schools that will contribute to a better America.
These past three years or so, we have been plagued with Covid-19, we’ve seen the inequities in treatment, who has access and who doesn’t, and racism has been exposed.
In your book, The Purpose Driven School, you quote, “There needs to be a radical change in how human development is approached for racism to be destroyed. In the school setting, this must start with leadership.”
We know that middle-aged white men hold most leadership roles. How do you see the change we need to be implemented from the current state of leadership?
Personal development is the new professional development. In order to create anti-racist schools, educational leaders must get in tune with their emotions, feelings, perceptions, and biases. There must be a serious focus on personal development because how you treat someone is not about who they are; it’s about who you are. Current and future educational leaders are going to have to be courageous and willing to condemn racist rhetoric and practices in education. We cannot move towards a more humanitarian society until everyone grows personally and is ready to do the work that will ultimately combat racism, discrimination, and inequities.
At the end of the day, it will not matter the race, sex, or creed of the educational leader. It is all going to boil down to their heart and their willingness to work towards dismantling racism in their school.
In this month’s edition of Voice4Equity in the Wellness Corner, I am focusing on self-care as educators are headed back to school. And what I found in my research were articles on the importance of self-care to avoid burnout and a host of self-care activities one could participate in. However, I also found that teachers may feel insulted by leaders asking them to adopt self-care practices when they are overloaded and overworked. While these practices may be beneficial, teachers want to see a change from the top to make their daily work lives more manageable to avoid burnout.
I know you believe self-care is essential as a daily practice.
How do you authentically encourage your educators to take care of themselves?
I am a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor, so it was important for me to bring the practice and philosophy to my staff. Kundalini yoga is a practice of Awareness. The goal of the practice is to increase self-awareness, which is in alignment with a fundamental aspect of our school culture that focuses on personal growth. Through self-awareness and personal growth, an individual becomes in tune with their feeling, emotions, and perceptions which allows them to create mind, body, and spirit balance. When balance is established, mindfulness, self-care, and wellness are activated.
Rosebud Academy has implemented a self-care program that provides staff with monthly reminders to take care of themselves. Each month staff is gifted with items like a gratitude journal, succulent plant, candle, etc., accompanied by an inspirational quote or message reminding them of the importance of self-care. These monthly rituals help staff keep wellness and self-care at the forefront of their minds and hopefully make self-care a daily habit.
What is next for you?
I am expanding my educational work and impact nationally through my books and public speaking engagements. Ultimately, I will continue to transform the minds and lives of students, parents, and educators and help move the world closer to a more humanitarian world through education.
Where can our readers connect with you and find your work?