Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

3 Steps for Culturally Competent Education Outside the Classroom

How front office staff can make school operations more equitable
By Allyson Taylor — April 15, 2024 5 min read
Workflow, Teamwork, Education concept. Team, people, colleagues in company, organization, administrative community. Corporate work, partnership and study.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Search online for “culturally competent education” and you’ll find a wealth of curricula, reading lists, and professional development resources designed for teachers. However, you’ll have a far more difficult time finding guidance for the noninstructional staff in our nation’s schools to create a culture of anti-racism.

As a Black educator and former elementary school teacher, I certainly know how important it is that the curriculum accurately reflects the histories and experiences of Black and brown students. As the current director of operations of a charter school district, I also know that well-run school operations are necessary for teachers to focus on the students in front of them.

Different schools structure their school operations teams in different ways, but most schools, including traditional public schools and charter schools, have an office staff that work tirelessly behind the scenes to support teachers and school leaders. This team plays an essential role in operating the school, and these individuals are often the first faces students and families see when entering the building. That is why is it crucial that we include the staff who manage school operations in our efforts to make our schools more equitable spaces.

Transitioning to a culture of anti-racist school operations requires thoughtful planning and coordination between the school operations and leadership teams in three key areas:

Family-engagement practices: Family-engagement practices can make or break a school community. Many families of color walk into schools with their own past trauma from their educational experiences. Recognizing this and actively creating a space where families’ voices and experiences are uplifted and valued is an important first step.

Teachers and administrators must be aware of their positional power when conversing with families. While master’s degrees and teaching credentials are valuable, families bring a unique set of skills, connections, and a deep knowledge about their child that is crucial for schools to validate.

The front-office staff must create a space that is warm, inviting, and kind to all families, even when those families are expressing serious frustrations.

Schools can consider the following suggestions and questions:

  • What are the school translation policies? Do they send out messages that all families can engage with?
  • Are the school flyers and family-led groups inclusive of all family types, or do they always address “Mom and Dad” or “parents”? I often suggest using generalized language such as “guardian” or “family council” to be more inclusive of grandparents, aunties, uncles, and guardians who often play a crucial role in bringing a child up.
  • Is your front office welcoming? Does it display community resources? Are there pictures of students and families that show that the school invests in its community?
  • Are you inviting—not demanding—feedback on school policies from families?

School purchasing power: Most schools don’t have an abundance of funds. Especially in areas where K-12 enrollment is in decline, public and charter schools have a duty to make fiscally responsible decisions with taxpayer dollars. However, schools still have an enormous amount of purchasing power. While it’s easy to buy all school supplies through major corporations such as Amazon or Staples, there may be opportunities for schools to partner with local organizations to purchase books, curriculum, and school supplies.

When I was working as the director of operations at a school in a primarily Black neighborhood in Boston, my school made the conscious effort to redirect significant funds to a local Black-owned bookstore by buying a large portion of our classroom library and curriculum books from that vendor rather than Amazon.

Through state grants, some schools can partner with community organizations to provide services to students and families. In my state of California, for example, schools can apply for community schools grants to fund programs and partnerships that serve the school community.

A few easy changes:

  • School operations teams should create “asset maps” that map out local businesses and nearby organizations that schools can work with. You’ll find that many organizations have their own deep connections to the school and are excited to partner. This type of connection can also drive future philanthropic support.
  • Do you have a staff professional development lunch coming up? Consider having it catered by a minority-owned restaurant.
  • Does your school order staff “swag” in the form of custom apparel? You’d be surprised how many minority- and family-owned options there are for T-shirts and other apparel.
  • For individuals who work at the district level and manage requests for proposals for their school organizations, is there an opportunity to consider equity as a component of the evaluation process?

School nutrition program: There are plenty of data that link the importance of eating breakfast and nutritious meals throughout the school day with academic success. While nutritional standards and compliance regulations create environments where schools may not be able to serve food daily that students truly “love,” there may be room to consider opportunities to strengthen the school’s holistic approach to breakfast and lunch. Schools may consider the following:

  • Does your food service allow students to try foods from different cultures? Is there variety in the food options?
  • Does your school have a “healthy food policy?” If so, is the purpose to encourage healthy living and general wellness, or is it about policing student choices? When schools have healthy food policies that outlaw even occasional sweets and treats, it creates an environment where we demean opportunities to celebrate rather than teach moderation.
  • What is your school’s approach to free and reduced-price lunch? Is there an opportunity to reduce the stigma in your lunch practices?

School operations often cover much more than these three buckets, including student transportation, health and immunizations, student data and attendance, and recruitment and facilities. It is my belief, however, that these steps are a good starting point to aligning culturally competent academic practices with operational practices.

As we approach summer break, school operations teams can start this work by reevaluating existing operations practices and school policies to allow for more culturally competent choices. In collaboration with school leaders, school operations teams can identify areas for improvement, tap into community voices, and have conversations about taking concrete steps toward lasting and impactful change. This will then create greater alignment with school academics and lead to increased student success far beyond the classroom.

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Q&A How K-12 Leaders Can Better Manage Divisive Curriculum and Culture War Debates
The leader of an effort to equip K-12 leaders with conflict resolution skills urges relationship-building—and knowing when to disengage.
7 min read
Katy Anthes, Commissioner of Education in Colorado from 2016- 2023, participates in a breakout session during the Education Week Leadership Symposium on May 3, 2024.
Katy Anthes, who served as commissioner of education in Colorado from 2016-2023, participates in a breakout session during the Education Week Leadership Symposium on May 3, 2024. Anthes specializes in helping school district leaders successfully manage politically charged conflicts.
Chris Ferenzi for Education Week
School & District Management Virginia School Board Restores Confederate Names to 2 Schools
The vote reverses a decision made in 2020 as dozens of schools nationwide dropped Confederate figures from their names.
2 min read
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
Steve Helber/AP
School & District Management Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About the School District Technology Leader?
The tech director at school districts is a key player when it comes to purchasing. Test your knowledge of this key buyer persona and see how your results stack up with your peers.
School & District Management Deepfakes Expose Public School Employees to New Threats
The only protection for school leaders is a healthy dose of skepticism.
7 min read
Signage is shown outside on the grounds of Pikesville High School, May 2, 2012, in Baltimore County, Md. The most recent criminal case involving artificial intelligence emerged in late April 2024, from the Maryland high school, where police say a principal was framed as racist by a fake recording of his voice.
Police say a principal was framed making racist remarks through a fake recording of his voice at Pikesville High School, a troubling new use of AI that could affect more educators. A sign announces the entrance to the Baltimore County, Md., school on May 2, 2012.
Lloyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun via AP