SSKC is Steadfast in Our Promise to “Do Better” as We Try to Be Leaders in Our City and Our Nation in Our Commitment to DEI
By Noah Devine, Director of Educational Investments
As the end of 2020 nears, all of us at SchoolSmartKC find ourselves reflecting on what has been one of the most difficult years and what the weeks, months, and years ahead might look like. The year started on an exuberant note with a Super Bowl win, but quickly turned disastrous with a global health pandemic and multiple, tragic events where black lives like George Floyd were cut short. These events shed light on the inequities of the systems and structures of our world. As we prepare to begin another calendar year, with these broken systems and structures still in place, I find myself taking stock of my own commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I am grateful those values are lived at SchoolSmartKC.
I know I am privileged and fortunate. I am a white male who grew up in an all-white family in a largely white, suburban neighborhood. Thankfully, my parents made it a priority to teach me the values of humility, respect, and understanding for all people, for all cultures, and for all ways of life. It is precisely these values – and the stated goal of supporting all students and all families towards the opportunity to achieve success – that drew me to SchoolSmartKC.
Before everyone was talking about DEI, SchoolSmartKC made a conscious decision at its inception to live those values in its work, its staff, and its commitment to always “do better.” I am especially proud of four key areas where we work, as an organization, to represent and support the communities we serve:
- Mission: The mission of SchoolSmartKC is to eliminate the opportunity gap between students in our local district boundaries and the state of Missouri. Students in this boundary (district and charter) are over 80% free/reduced-price lunch, 60% Black, and nearly 25% Latino/Hispanic. Our mission isn’t just about test scores. It is about addressing systemic inequities, and supporting children, families, educators, and leaders to ensure that every child has every life opportunity because of the education resources available to that child and family.
- People: The mission of an organization is only as strong as its people’s commitment to the mission. We live DEI at SchoolSmartKC with an amazing staff that is diverse by gender (3 men, 5 women), race (5 nonwhite, 3 white), family education background, and many other factors. In 2018, our second year as an organization, the SSKC team joined a Promise 54 initiative, a multi-day workshop, and then a yearlong fellowship, to inventory and improve our DEI practices. On at least a quarterly basis, we set aside specific time during staff retreats to inspect ourselves on our DEI commitment and take stock of how we are doing and, most importantly, how we can improve.
- Metrics: As a grantmaking organization, our dollars demonstrate our priorities. SchoolSmartKC has committed over $20M to schools and nonprofits that support our students and we require at least one outcome, goal, or output, focused on ensuring all students are supported and achieve at the same level, regardless of race, income, or ethnicity. We then analyze how we can support schools in improving critical DEI work.
- Continuous Improvement: No organization and no one person has this all figured out. But we remain committed to doing better and being better – next week, next month, and next year. 2020 has rocked us all. The digital divide, which was once casually mentioned, is now front and center. SchoolSmartKC responded to the crisis of students not having reliable internet or a device by allocating $1M of our own budget to connectivity needs and worked with a consortium of funders to allocate another $730,000. These inequities continue and we continue to find ways to combat them.
All of us at SSKC are steadfast in our promise to “do better” as we try to be leaders in our city and our nation in our commitment to DEI. We philosophically believe philanthropy and grant makers must be committed and focused on DEI and put their money and technical assistance towards endeavors that support all students. We certainly will continue to do just that.