Ensure broadband access for every household with school-age children and young adult students. This crisis has exposed the extreme inequity in our school system. The most obvious is the digital divide that plagues low income households. The future is in developing independent learners which requires guaranteed internet access. As families and students take education into their own hands, they need broadband to access teachers, learning tools, curriculum, and information about health, safety and jobs. Simple fairness compels us to ensure this.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Caprice Young.
Dr. Caprice Young is national superintendent of schools for Learn4Life, a network of nonprofit, public charter high schools that recovers dropouts and serves at-risk students through a personalized learning model.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a host foster family, so I have more than three dozen brothers and sisters of every different kind of background you can imagine. My dad was a juvenile probation officer and minister, and my mother was a special education teacher and sculptor. We had a boys’ room, girls’ room, parents’ loft and clay room. I grew up learning to get along with and love the people in my life. Kids came through the house all the time, and within 24 hours they were like kin because of the love and acceptance I learned from my parents. I’ve committed my life to improving education for underserved students just like my brothers and sisters.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
I loved reading when I was a kid, so children’s books really influenced my outlook on life. The Lorax taught me that I cannot leave it to other people to improve our world, I need to commit myself to making things better. Dr. Seuss put the responsibility to care on the shoulders of the children who read his books. And now I know it’s not enough to just care — that’s certainly where it starts — but we have to do something. We must demonstrate our care for our students by ensuring through our actions that they achieve academic and personal success.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Mathew Kincaid and Ahmed Ahmed, the founders of Overcoming Racism, provided an introductory training to our leadership team last January. They start all of their seminars with a powerful quote by Lillia Watson that has stayed with me. “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” The racial inequalities that are causing violence in the U.S. weaken all of us and cause more division. There are no walls high enough to block out the truth of our interdependence.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership begins with integrity. It depends on taking action based on core principles that inspire and engage people to pursue common goals.
A generation ago, leadership was about hierarchy, and command and control. Organizations that were top down rarely exceeded the capability and vision of the person at the top. No matter how smart that leader was, it was limited. This new generation of leaders recognizes that we live in an interconnected world, where strength comes from the breadth and diversity of the viewpoints and resources you can marshal to achieve good work together.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I use the same strategy we teach our students. First, take care of yourself by eating right, breathing deeply, sleeping enough, getting plenty of daily exercise, and maintaining your important personal relationships so your mind, emotions, and body are healthy and balanced.
Second, plan to enter meetings having done your homework and being well-prepared. Knowing you are ready to engage helps you stress less about your ability to do your best.
Third, think about possible things that might go wrong and make a plan to address each challenge. This includes writing down hard questions or objections that might come up and scripting how you might answer them. Research shows that students who plan not just for how to be successful, but for what might go wrong, are more likely to succeed and overcome obstacles.
Fourth, accept the fact that no matter how well you prepare, sometimes there are things beyond your control. Sometimes you have to just say, “it is what it is” and move on. As many smart people have pointed out, life isn’t about not getting knocked down, it is about getting back up again and again.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Societal change momentum comes in bursts, rather than through long-term efforts. I lived through the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles and we all thought that was a moment that would finally inspire deep change. It wasn’t. The truth is, people made promises and government made some short-term investments, but the money wasn’t enough to sustain the momentum because it wasn’t matched with changes to the systems that created disparities in the first place. Redlining, employment bias, lack of access to capital and health care, neighborhood violence and disproportionate disparities to education are examples. We can’t let this happen again. We need to implement the profound systemic changes that will drive the creation of a just, equitable and prosperous society for all.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Most recently we were faced with the stark realization that 85% of our students would be excluded from their education upon moving to remote learning because of the pandemic. We quickly purchased and deployed more than 20,000 laptops and 15,000 hotspots to give all of our students a fair and equal shake at graduating high school. That was a worthwhile fight for inclusion that had an immediate and tangible impact on students.
Last year, we started a Black Leaders Alliance made up of diverse staff to drive an agenda for how we operate our schools, consistent with our values and what’s best for our students. It’s important for me, as a white female, to recognize it’s not always my time to lead. Instead I strive to support, amplify and cede power to the voices and efforts of people who have been traditionally sidelined.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It is critical to develop leadership in people of all types of backgrounds for a greater diversity of ideas, talents and experience. If your executive team is made up of people from similar backgrounds and experiences, you miss out on a great deal of perspective and capacity in this world. It’s not just about ending prejudice. People have blind spots based on the mental models they have created for themselves early in life. The more perspectives, or mental models, you can draw upon, the more likely you are to find the answers to problems that were created by homogeneous thinking.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society.” Kindly share a story or example for each.
Education is arguably the most important system to ensure a fair and equitable society. Access to a quality education is often limited or non-existent for students of color or low-income families. Here are five keys to reframe what education looks like and how it is delivered.
- Ensure broadband access for every household with school-age children and young adult students. This crisis has exposed the extreme inequity in our school system. The most obvious is the digital divide that plagues low income households. The future is in developing independent learners which requires guaranteed internet access. As families and students take education into their own hands, they need broadband to access teachers, learning tools, curriculum, and information about health, safety and jobs. Simple fairness compels us to ensure this.
- Stop structuring school to be convenient for adults and burdensome for the students its meant to serve. For many students, attending school five days a week for eight hours a day isn’t possible with the adult responsibilities they must manage, like needing to work or caring for family. Flexibility should be the cornerstone of how school is structured operationally and physically. Students should be the masters of their own time management and schedules with guidance from teachers. There should be a mix of small group instruction, larger labs and one-on-one learning depending on what the student needs for a particular subject area. And when a student who has dropped out feels inspired to reengage in their education, they shouldn’t have to wait until the start of a new school year or semester. Schools should offer a year-round schedule and extended open hours to access teachers, computer labs, learning materials and tutoring.
- Personalize education to a specific student’s needs and challenges. Students should advance grade levels based on their competence in the subject matter, not how much time they spend in a classroom. Some students learn best in small groups or by one-on-one tutoring or through experimentation. Others thrive in a classroom model or independent study. Many need interventions to overcome gaps in math and reading ability, rather than be left behind. We must meet the student where they are, consider their strengths and challenges, and tailor their curriculum to give them a fair shake at being successful.
- Infuse trauma-informed practices into educating students and dealing with perceived disciplinary issues. That means recognizing the strengths students bring to their learning. Many students have been traumatized by hunger, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, illness or bullying — but they keep on trying and that resilience needs to be recognized as a foundation for learning. Trauma interferes with a child’s development of social-emotional and behavioral skills needed to learn and thrive in school. Their school must be a safe place with people who care about them as individuals, understand their challenges and value their strengths. The focus should be on the students as empowered individuals first to accelerate their learning and close achievement gaps. Our schools must understand the widespread impact of trauma and respond by recognizing the symptoms in students and staff. It’s important to build resiliency though program offerings and training, and school policies that end re-traumatization.
- Integrate job skills training and career technology to give students a jumpstart on their futures beyond a high school diploma. We should incorporate community resources to encourage career and college readiness. High school should include executive functioning skills, work-based learning opportunities, internships and job placement to make the education more immediately applicable in their daily lives. That supports social-emotional skills and resiliency development in students while giving them the tools they need for a job after high school — whether they are working their way through college or going directly into the skilled workforce.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Change does come in bursts so it’s important to be prepared to act when those bursts occur to sustain long-term momentum. The action I’m seeing across this country — driven by young people — makes me very optimistic. They are looking for immediate change, and I want long-term progress. Those are symbiotic goals.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
The biggest systemic change I want right now is free broadband for all students. So, I’d like to meet with people who can bring about that change. At the top of my list is Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who can make this happen if he leverages policy solutions and the army of activists we have galvanized for him.