More than 100 people packed the cafeteria at Overland High School on the evening of March 21. It was a diverse crowd: men and women, parents and teachers, principals and district administrators. They came from all corners of the Cherry Creek School District and represented the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the CCSD student body, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, African and Indian. Some participated in the gathering through translators speaking Spanish or Arabic. But for all the differences in the group, there was one overriding similarity. Every person in the room was concerned about educational excellence and equity - ensuring that every single child who attends any Cherry Creek school gets an outstanding education.
That common concern brought the disparate group together at the District PASS meeting on a busy Wednesday night. PASS stands for “Partnership for Academically Successful Students.”
“PASS is a districtwide effort to engage educators, parents and community in a partnership to raise the academic achievement of all students, while eliminating the disproportionality in achievement experienced by students of color and other historically underrepresented groups,” explained Michael Giles, executive director of Inclusive Excellence for Cherry Creek Schools.
Giles oversees the PASS program, which was born out of the district’s early equity work as district leaders sought to understand the role that race plays in students’ academic experience and in what was then called the “achievement gap.” Every school in the district has a school-based PASS Committee that meets regularly throughout the school year. The District PASS Committee, which is led by a parent steering committee, holds six meetings during the year, one at each of the district’s comprehensive high schools.
The agenda for the March 21 PASS meeting held at Overland High School featured Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge, a nationally renowned expert in the field of equity, engagement and academic achievement in public education. Stembridge holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership, a master's in literature and a bachelor's in English. He is the former director of the Center for Strategic Solutions at New York University, and is a highly-regarded expert when it comes to the most complex and cutting-edge approaches to helping students of all backgrounds learn.
For the past three years, Stembridge has worked with Cherry Creek Schools to guide school-based equity work across the district and design strategies to ensure that all children have the opportunity to be successful. At the District PASS meeting, he updated the audience on the work being done this year, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.
He began his presentation with a discussion about pedagogy, or how we teach, and equity, or whom we teach. He said that educators today must think about pedagogy and equity at the same time, in order to update educational practices and deliver culturally responsive education that meets the needs of CCSD’s diverse student body.
Those needs, Stembridge said, include feeling loved, connected, valued and included. He emphasized that meeting those needs for all students is essential to their academic success.
“When our needs are met in a meaningful learning experience we are likely to feel inspired, moved and empowered,” Stembridge said.
He added that it’s important for teachers to know and to take into consideration each student’s unique circumstances.
“We have to leverage their experiences so that their social background, their cultural background will be an asset to them in learning. Our students get to show us that they are brilliant, that they are competent, not in spite of their background, but precisely because of it.
“We can design learning experiences that do that for all of our kids. We can give even our most vulnerable kids the opportunity to show up and to be great,” Stembridge added.
Cody Lewis, a fifth-grade grade teacher at Coyote Hills Elementary, was one of the many educators in the audience. She said making time to attend PASS meetings is important to her.
“PASS is a forum that I can go to gain perspective,” Lewis said. “Each time I attend a District PASS meeting, I walk away with something I can take directly to my classroom in order to provide excellence for ALL students.”
The District PASS Committee will wrap up the 2017-18 school year with an open forum on Wed., April 25 at Smoky Hill High School. For more information about the PASS program in Cherry Creek Schools, visit http://www.cherrycreekschools.org/InclusiveExcellence/Pages/PASS.aspx.