Community Voice

Creating Equitable Community Voice 

“A master class” in equity.  “On fire.” “Bringing justice.” “Concrete and Precise.”  Those are a few of the accolades for Dr. Gloria Henderson’s presentation, Advancing an Equity Policy, at a recent conference.  

In a time of intense conflict, Dr. Henderson creates an open and honest community wide dialogue on racial equity.  Lake Washington School District has been leading the way.  In my interview with Gloria Henderson, she provides so many concrete ideas and essential principles for engaging the entire community … including those most often marginalized. 

Lake Washington School District has been working on racial equity and policy concurrently for more than three years.  This iterative process allows ideas to grow, develop and mature over time.  It builds deeper understanding and ownership.  

Here is an outline of Lake Washington’s work … with some Dr. Henderson’s key ideas in italics:  

Getting the Soil Ready

Three Years of Board Conversations …

  • Professional Development: Puget Sound ESD provided on-going training and background knowledge for the board.  
  • Learning from Others: The board collected and reviewed racial equity policies from a number of other districts.  And collaborated with cabinet on administrative 
  • Learning from Community:  15 focus groups provided true engagement with multiple constituents including those historically marginalized.

Iterative input loops:

  • Purpose: What do we want in a policy? Elements like: a focus on racial equity; access; mandatory PD; equity teams; safety; including marginalized groups in decision-making.  
  • Drafted policy ideas in pairs: worked to find common themes.
  • Discussed sticking points: came back together to discuss and iron out differences.
  • Continuous Feedback: took drafts back to stakeholder focus groups, most of which encouraged the board to go further.  

Advancing Equity:

Making the invisible visible. Growing awareness and understanding with:

  • Racial equity teams in every building: everyone – district-wide – engaged in equity discussions and learning.
  • Extensive PD for building leaders, Racial Equity Teams and families.  All are deepening their understanding and learning a common language.
  • Data on outcomes and student perceptions.  Focused on disparate outcomes and based on student voice.  
  • Administrative Leadership.  Superintendent engaged cabinet and district leadership in learning, budgeting, leading and drafting the details to go with the board policy 

We can do so much better together:  

As the board nears completion of their policy, they will have the in-depth background as well as the support of:

  • Teachers, principals, district leaders who have been involved in equity teams.
  • Families who have been involved in equity teams and extensive training.
  • Families, including non-dominant families, from the 15 focus groups.


Principles and Take Aways: 

The process designed by Dr. Henderson provides such thoughtful engagement at every level – truly aimed at hearing the community voice as a way to lift up the ultimate board policy voice.  As she says, It is the communities’ policy.  

  • Move at the Speed of Trust: A three-year process that keeps everyone in the conversation listening to one another.  
  • Planning WITH the community:  Board and superintendent open to learning, listening and leading.  
  • Seek out those at the margins: Co-equalizing power with marginalized groups:  If we want to change, we have to bring people in from the margins and make them part of the co-design. 
  • Iterative feedback and input loops:  Not one and done.  Iterative conversations that let people know their voice was heard … and how it made a difference.
  • Equity teams in every building are key to building readiness.  Background knowledge based on training and development replaces fear with greater understanding.
  • Getting the soil ready:  Deepening awareness.  Increasing resilience.  Reducing complicity.  Decreasing anti-Blackness.  Growing capacity at every level. 
  • Interest Convergence:  Expand what counts as engagement.  Keep the focus on who benefits and who bears the burden.  Frame the policy issues.  

Where does Dr. Henderson see the biggest impact?

Equity Teams for every school:

  • Provide support and readiness for policy work
  • Grow the knowledge base
  • Principal co-leads the work with teachers and families
  • District equity team grows understanding of T&L, directors, supervisors
  • Families: invite them in and show them how to engage 

Make sure the soil is tilled so there is readiness and support when the policy is complete.

Final thoughts:

Dr. Henderson is truly expanding the meaning of engagement.  Giving us thoughtful ways to seek out stakeholder voices.  To co-collaborate to find interest convergence.  

Thank you, Dr. Henderson, and Lake Washington Schools for leading the way forward.  For showing us how to ‘lift every voice’ … co-lead and co-design for better futures.

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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