This school year, the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township school board hired Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera to fill the newly created position of director of equity and inclusion.
An educator for 14 years, Buchanan-Rivera has been a teacher, principal, diversity trainer, director of curriculum and adjunct professor. While a principal in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, Buchanan-Rivera was named Administrator of the Year and her international school was recognized nationally as a Magnet School of Excellence.
She was the first director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Hamilton Southeastern Schools. Buchanan-Rivera has served as an adjunct professor at Butler University and received the College of Education Distinguished Alumni Award in 2020.
In addition to her position at Washington Township Schools, Buchanan-Rivera also is an adjunct professor at the University of Indianapolis.
In an exclusive interview with the Recorder, Buchanan-Rivera discusses her new position and how she plans to help the district improve.
Indianapolis Recorder: This is a newly created position for Washington Township Schools. Can you explain your role and why the district felt it was important to add such a position?
Buchanan-Rivera: First, the locally-elected school board remains committed to educational equity. For that reason, the members voted unanimously to recreate the director of equity and inclusion. I am committed to working with our school community to advance equitable achievement and spaces of belonging. Equity is the concept of giving our 11,000 students what they need to reach their full potential. It involves the active participation of our educators to critically examine educational systems, and to work together to remove the barriers that harm pathways for success and yield to unequal outcomes. Every member of our team in Washington Township plays an integral role in supporting the academic and social emotional needs of learners. The work of educational equity does not fall on the shoulders of one person, but is rather a collective effort. I will use my professional experience and commitment to equity to support and direct inclusionary actions at the district level.
Fortunately, Washington Township has a strategic plan with four priority goals. One of those goals centers the work of addressing racial achievement disparities, which involves a critical eye on systems that support students and instructional practices. We have to apply an equity lens to decisions that are made, understanding that resolutions may either benefit or marginalize different populations. This work requires ongoing mirror work where teachers and educational leaders assess their biases, practices and how their beliefs align with their actions. It is also vitally important to develop avenues for community members to be a part of the change and work in partnership with leaders towards these efforts. Therefore, I will work alongside Crystal Haslett, the coordinator of student programs and community liaison, to support the work of building more community partnerships which is another priority goal of our strategic plan.
IR: While you’ve only been in your position at Washington Township Schools since September, you held a similar position at Hamilton Southeastern Schools. What are some signature programs you implemented at Hamilton Southeastern? Have you implemented those or similar programs at Washington Township or plan to do so?
Buchanan-Rivera: I believe that it is important for educational leaders and teachers to have an understanding of equity, how systems work and anti-racist pedagogy. Therefore, in my previous role, I spent an ample amount of time educating leaders and staff in efforts to build a strong knowledge base of equitable practices throughout the district. We cannot expect inequitable structures to change without ongoing education and a process where we identify and eradicate barriers. Additionally, I worked in various stakeholder groups and student-based organizations, including racial equity clubs that developed a Black Student Leadership Summit that supported nearly 300 students across multiple local districts.
Within Washington Township, I will continue the work of amplifying the voices of students and families. We have already established a Community Coalition and I have initiated student focus groups to learn more about virtual experiences. The initiatives that are implemented in Washington Township will be based on the diversity of needs and narratives within our school community which will vary considerably from other districts. Therefore, I want to let the voices of students as well as families be a guide for what is implemented as I continue to learn more within this new role.
IR: Are there efforts in place to recruit and retain more Black teachers as well as teachers of color to better reflect the student body? If not, is that a future initiative?
Buchanan-Rivera: Yes, the recruitment of teachers of color is another priority goal within our district’s strategic plan. As a District Equity Leadership Team, we will not only have to study recruitment efforts, but think about retention and how we are creating racially affirming environments for staff of color.
IR: COVID-19 has challenged educators in ways they’ve never been challenged before, how has the pandemic affected your plans? How do you help teachers understand the importance of equity and inclusion efforts at a time when there seems to be so much on their plates right now just to make sure students are successful in virtual learning?
Buchanan-Rivera: The pandemic serves as an equity check for all of us. It has magnified disparities within and across institutions. Therefore, this is not the time to cease this necessary work. Rather, it is time to have an intentional focus, more courageous conversations and impactful actions. My role is helping educators understand that equity is the plate. The instructional practices and other things on the plate, have to be approached and delivered with an equity lens. We have to think about students’ needs such as their mental health, engagement and connections as many are missing social interactions in virtual spaces. Thinking about our work through an equity lens must be at the forefront of decisions made within education.
IR: How do you measure success? How will you know your efforts to improve equity and inclusion at Washington Township Schools are effective?
Buchanan-Rivera: Data and community voices are always strong measuring sticks. We need to know how students and families, particularly marginalized communities, are feeling about the efforts of schools and monitor our data towards equitable achievement.