The Bates leaders and teachers committed themselves to an inclusive school culture. When the district asked the Bates to increase the educational options for students with disabilities, the Bates staff approached this work by defining what it means to be an inclusive school. The school community wanted a broader definition that mirrored diversity at the Bates—inclusivity in regard to socio-economic status, race, family composition, and sexual orientation, in addition to student learning needs. Teachers and leaders then focused on identifying where gaps in equity and opportunity existed. Staff took a hard look at Advanced Work Classrooms (AWCs) where students were being sorted into two academic tracks based on a test in the fall of 3rd grade. The whole-school ILT voted to replace AWCs with new rigorous coursework available to all students, and teachers committed themselves to the “heavy lift” required to support all learners.
Community-wide conversations about race and equity were a critical step in reaching inclusion goals. Teachers played an important leadership role in ensuring that school values were widely shared. “We are an inclusion school. We honor diversity. And we want to celebrate our differences.” With this level of buy-in to school values among teachers, the principal invited a local community partner to initiate and facilitate dialogues about race among teachers and families. Parents provided powerful comments on equity of opportunity for students, as well as their own engagement in school leadership and decision-making structures. Parents articulated that the opinions most often heard in School Site Council meetings were not reflective of the diversity of the school community. This led to thoughtful and careful work to include more parent voices in productive conversations about the Bates school community, and it worked. By the following school year, School Site Council membership was fifty percent more diverse.
“We saw the divide between AWC and general education classes and the impact on students. We could not own inclusion, we could not move forward, without doing something about this inequity.”
–Bates Fourth Grade Teacher