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Guest opinion: Solutions must be implemented by leaders whose lived experiences represent the needs and perspectives of communities of color

As a Board member of Oregon School Boards Association and Clackamas Community College, I am profoundly aware that these are challenging times for students, families and the communities we serve. These challenges are magnified for communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 — in education, incomes and health. Reynolds

Amid the national conversation about social justice we must remember that, while education can be a powerful pathway to success, additional supports and reforms are needed to ensure that all students have an opportunity to succeed.

Our state and federal governments have tried several different ways to close the opportunity gap. You may remember some of the names: No Child Left Behind Act, Every Student Succeeds Act and 40-40-20. All these programs made significant changes to education policies and budgets toward the goal of reducing inequity. But statewide, the dial hasn't moved.

In recent years there have been positive examples, like the North Clackamas and Umatilla School Districts. Each achieved positive results by creating an equity culture that permeates all decisions and actions, tailoring learning to each student, and inviting the active engagement of families and community members. And, the Oregon School Boards Association formally recognized its School Board Members of Color Caucus — an action that was my top priority as President of the Association. The Caucus has excelled in its mission to provide quality education for all students; members have demonstrated courage and commitment in taking actions necessary to change outcomes.

Students need affordable pathways to college, careers and family-wage jobs. Community colleges provide that pathway and are now in a unique position to train and retrain the workforce during a period of historically high unemployment. But in response to the pandemic, many community colleges were faced with cutting programs, then raising tuition to offset enrollment declines.

We should be concerned that a generation of community college students may miss out on the opportunity to pursue their goals. We should also be concerned that the hope offered by the 2019 passage of the 2019 Student Success Act has been eclipsed by COVID-19 learning losses.

These issues are why I am stepping down from the Boards of Clackamas Community College (CCC) and Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA). The challenges presented by this moment are clear, but solutions must be implemented by leaders whose lived experiences represent the needs and perspectives of communities of color. Those leaders can only come forward now if space is created, and I believe that the time is right for me to make room at the table.

I am grateful for the commitment of CCC and OSBA, and after years of advocacy for public education and vulnerable populations, this is not a decision I take lightly. It is time to step aside for new leaders to make a difference for the voices who need to be heard. I look forward to working alongside them as a supporter, ally and friend.

In stepping aside, I urge Boards to reach out and listen to communities of color, students and families, provide rigorous, culturally appropriate curriculum that will keeps all students engaged; remain accountable by using results-oriented metrics and making adjustments to ensure all students succeed; and prioritize recruitment of persons of color to be decision-makers, educators and employees. Our educational institutions provide a safety net beyond the classroom, and board members must ensure that these services remain available at a time when meeting those needs is vital.

Now, more than ever, we can all work together to achieve educational equity. We must continue a dialogue around the short and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on education with the state and federal decision makers who hold power over our educational policies and budgets. We should advocate for critical, timely proposals, like the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief and HEROES Acts, both of which would provide vital COVID-19 support to education. With the future of an entire generation at stake, our time to meet this challenge is now.

Betty Reynolds is a former a board member of the Oregon School Boards Association and the Clackamas Community College Board of Education. She is also a former member of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board.

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