Our publisher, Larry Jacobs, recently had a great chat with Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) in Ithaca, New York. Dr. Brown has facilitated conversations in multiple communities that have resulted in transformative shifts in culture and achievement. Using systems thinking in schools, Dr. Brown’s leadership has led to innovative programs, redesigned learning spaces, numerous technology initiatives.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with the AC&E / Equity & Access PreK-12 online journal. Can you share with our readers a little bit about your background and the current school system you lead?
Sure, Larry, and thanks for the opportunity to connect with you today.
I have served as a public school educator for over twenty years. During that time, I’ve been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, school CIO, and since 2011, I’ve had the honor to serve as the Superintendent of Schools in Ithaca, New York. A very diverse school district, the Ithaca school system serves students from rural, urban, and suburban communities. During my time in Ithaca, we have achieved some of the most significant positive student achievement shifts in the nation, and I am incredibly proud of the team of talented educators I lead.
I’ve received various recognitions for our efforts to improve the lives of the students we serve, including the New York State Superintendent of the Year award. I have also had the privilege of speaking and facilitating workshops around the nation on a range of topics for local, regional, and national audiences that have included strategic planning, culturally responsive practices, and equity. Finally, I’ve published numerous articles and I’m the author of Culture of Love: Cultivating a Transformative and Positive Organizational Culture and the co-author of ThinkTweets: 100 Transformative Tweets for Educators.
Equity is clearly an important topic nationwide, but to you personally. Was there a critical moment in your career that really crystallized the importance of this issue?
My lived experience includes a lifetime of moments that crystallized the need for one to advocate for more equitable opportunities, inclusion, and culturally responsiveness.
One of those critical moments came when I received the 2017 New York State Superintendent of the Year award at a special event that included approximately 1000 other superintendents and top education officials in my state. While walking onto the stage to receive the award, I was struck by how few people of color were in the room. Other than my family members who were in attendance, I could count only a few other people who looked like us in the room. On that day while standing before my colleagues and others, I realized the ubiquitous oppression through policy and behavior that contributes to the lack of diversity amongst a full room of the state’s top educators. My recognition as the Superintendent of the Year meant nothing if I couldn’t do something to change the demographic makeup of that room. Since that moment, I’ve helped launch various initiatives including a statewide Commission on Diversity and Inclusivity.
You are currently working with our friends at Discovery Education on a series called Equity Talks which has featured some of America’s leading educators gathering and discussing topics related to equity. Tell me about this series. How did it come about? What are the goals?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been engaged in discussions with Coni Rechner, Discovery Education’s Senior Vice President of National K-12 Partnerships and other leaders at Discovery Education about how to use Discovery Education’s suite of instructional tools and the company’s international networks to promote equity, culturally responsive practices, and inclusion in schools.
Then with the unexpected school closures, educators immediately begin to ask for support and strategies to support learners. As one of the response strategies, I collaborated with the team at Discovery Education to develop Equity Talks, a live webinar series featuring the nation’s top educational leaders engaging with one another in a virtual environment. The primary goal of these conversations is to spark thinking and share practical strategies that school leaders can immediately use to cultivate equity and excellence during the nationwide school closures and beyond. I encourage every educator to attend these important conversations. You can learn more and see the full Equity Talks schedule at www.discoveryeducation.com/learn/equity-talks/ .
What are some of the topics you’ve discussed?
We’ve covered a lot of important topics in the first few sessions we’ve held. Some of the most fruitful conversations have revolved around:
- How school districts are ensuring connections with the most vulnerable students during this time.
- What school leaders foresee happening this summer and in the fall regarding the re-opening schools.
- How school districts are meeting the needs of English Language Learners and students with Special Needs during the closure.
- How, in our new era of distance learning, are school districts meeting the needs of vulnerable students and those who have been traditionally marginalized in bricks and mortar buildings?
- Inspirational thinking and hopes for the future.
What have been some of the learning solutions that have come out of this series? Anything that has surprised you?
We’ve learned much from the exceptional leaders on the panels and from the hundreds of folks who are actively posting in the webinar’s chat room. The learnings have included specific strategies about how to conduct culturally responsive lessons in a digital environment, and how to produce schedules that will adhere to social distancing guidelines when reentering buildings in the future.
I have been surprised that school leaders—no matter their size or geographic location—are similarly concerned about how to address food insecurities, how to provide broadband access to all learners, and how to ensure the social emotional health of students.
In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, these issues are top of mind for school leaders everywhere, and I am heartened to see the education community coming together to seek common solutions for these common challenges.
I’ve heard it said recently that Covid-19 will accelerate efforts to improve equity in America. What do you think of that statement?
In the wake of the consequences associated with the current pandemic, I am hopeful that school and community leaders will use this opportunity to address inequities and not return to the status quo. Conversations like those we are having during the Equity Talks series are not only highlighting longstanding equity issues, but are also generating support and enthusiasm for the efforts needed to change oppressive mindsets and polices. If it does not change behaviors and systems, the current health crisis will be simply a crisis and not an impetus for innovation.
Learn more about Dr. Brown and his work here.
Discovery Education’s Equity Talks is a live webinar series featuring the nation’s top educational leaders as they engage with one another in a virtual environment. Equity Talks take place on Thursdays with new featured guests each session. The updated schedule of events and registration information is available here.