Dr. Erick Witherspoon ‘11, national director of equity for Generation Ready, adjunct professor with the U of R School of Education, and a recent speaker at the school’s Summer Institute on Leadership for Educational Justice, chatted with Katie Olson of U of R about the need to provide excellent education for every student in the K–12 public school system.
At the Summer Institute on Leadership for Educational Justice, you presented on cultural proficiency as a policy matter. Why is it important to be culturally proficient in 2017?
It’s important for educators to be culturally proficient so they can cultivate learning environments conducive to all students achieving success. We have to create policies that open doors for students—providing a sustained, meaningful framework for institutionalizing cultural knowledge, valuing differences, and assuring awareness of the unique needs of all students within each school district.
The theme of this year’s conference was addressing diversity and advancing equity. How are educators working towards this mission?
Many teachers, district leaders, and school board members have committed to taking the journey—it’s not a destination—toward being equitable and providing access for all students. Focusing on equity, like the University of Redlands conference did, helps build this capacity. In addition, educators are exploring their own personal beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and stereotypes.
Are there ways in which non-educators can work towards this mission?
I would say so. We have students at the elementary level who don’t have a parent at home who can read to them. The community can step up and provide those resources—volunteering in classrooms; volunteering to help students with homework after school; and volunteering monetary support as well.
What was unique about this year's Summer Institute?
I was impressed that all stakeholders—board members, principals, teachers, counselors, and county office superintendents—were represented as both speakers and attendees. It was a comprehensive, systematic step forward.
Why did you choose the University of Redlands for your doctorate?
The University of Redlands School of Education contains a unique passion to examine the current state of education and find ways to make it better. In the doctoral program, there was a lot of pushing and prodding to figure out what we can do to ensure equity and what we can do to make educational excellence equate to educational justice.
Does your University of Redlands education influence the decisions you make in your job as national director for equity at Generation Ready?
My role with Generation Ready is to create nationwide partnerships to enable schools and their districts to focus on equity and cultural proficiency as a conduit to students’ academic success. The skills and peer experience that I acquired during the University of Redlands program serve as a lens for my leadership and the decisions that I make from day to day to support students across the nation.