APS minority teachers say they’re hesitant to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work

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AURORA | Aurora Public Schools has a highly committed staff but staff members of color are much more likely to have experienced bias and less likely to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, according to results of a survey presented to the school board Tuesday night.

The district worked with Promise54, a national organization that promotes educational equity, to conduct a survey of 1,454 teachers and other staff members in the district about their experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion. A contingent of staff members are part of a working group with Promise54 that has the overall goal of retaining educators of color.

The survey found that across demographic groups, APS has highly committed staff that intends to stay with the district. Staff generally feel positive about their work-life balance and have respect for their managers.

However, the survey also identified several challenges, including that hiring and recruiting efforts are not yielding a diverse workforce. There was a wide gap in the number of staff members who say they have experienced bias, with 44% of staffers of color saying they have experienced bias at APS and only 29% of whites.

Staff members of color were much less likely to say they felt like they could bring their “whole self” to work.

Staff members of color were also less likely to feel like they had support and opportunities for advancement. Only 49% of staff said that their workplace had frequent conversations about race and equity, and fewer reported having conversations about power and privilege.

At the next school board meeting on Oct. 20, the working group will present the board with some suggestions on how to address these issues.

Superintendent Rico Munn also presented about the district’s history of equity work. The district has had success in narrowing disparities between white students and students of color, Munn said, but an achievement gap still exists.

“Pretty consistently our gaps are smaller than they are at the state but it’s not necessarily something that’s worth jumping up and down about,” he said.

Munn said he is very proud of some of the work the district has been doing to improve equity over the past several years, including creating a welcome center for immigrant and refugee students, creating an office to support multilingual learners and making its gifted and talented program more equitable. However, he said that the district has not talked enough about its equity framework, which has left some staff members in the dark.

“One of the things I failed to do over the last several years was to be as explicit about our equity work as I think that I should have been,” Munn said. “We were doing this work based upon this equity framework but we didn’t identify it.”

In regards to the district’s COVID-19 operations, Munn said that the district is prepared to move forward with hybrid in-person learning next week, Munn said.

Dr. John Douglas, director of the Tri-County Health Department, joined the board to provide another update. Douglas said that he is concerned about a rise in cases in the region, but is more worried about community transmission affecting schools rather than schools becoming vectors for transmission.

Colorado is currently working on a plan for how to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, and essential workers, including teachers, will likely be one of the first groups of people able to receive it, he said.

“We will not have a vaccine by Election Day,” he said, but could have one by December.

Brett Johnson gave a brief presentation on how Amendment B, the amendment to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, would affect the school district. If the measure fails to pass, the district is facing a projected $8 million decrease in revenue “but the end effect is probably greater than that,” Johnson said.

The board agreed to draft a resolution in support of the amendment, which it will vote on whether to pass at the next meeting.

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