Systems Leadership for Math Improvement

Anti-Racist Leadership in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak forced school districts in the Puget Sound region of Washington state to respond to unprecedented and quickly-changing conditions. District leaders’ responses have potentially serious implications for students and families from marginalized communities served by each district. They can mitigate or exacerbate the inequitable treatment already experienced by students and their families across social settings.

As we move past the initial stages of the crisis, we recognize that the disruption presented by the pandemic is also an opportunity to reimagine school systems toward the goal of dismantling white supremacy. Our research examines how district leaders considered and designed instruction within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and how leaders promote and sustain new practices and coherent systems that value and nurture Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

In a recent Policy Brief, we outline promising leadership practices employed by Puget Sound area central office leaders. In the brief, we present a set of three equity-focused leadership principles, describe promising examples, and offer recommendations to guide district leaders in their ongoing instructional planning. In the fall of 2020, we hosted a virtual panel with Puget-Sound are leaders who shared their ideas about equity-focused district-level decision-making within the COVID context.

Further analyses delve deeper into the ideas and beliefs that shaped district leaders’ instructional responses to the pandemic. Our research investigates first, how school district leaders frame equity and the needs of marginalized communities they serve and second, how these ideas and other influences shaped their decision-making processes in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Puget Sound region.

Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a rich case, our research aims to shed light on how leaders mobilize to respond to uncertainty and emergency, particularly in ways that don’t exacerbate inequities. By building understanding of how leaders’ ideas about equity and marginalized groups shaped their responses to uncertainty and crisis, findings will support district leaders to make decisions with an equity lens as they move forward dealing with the COVID-19 crisis as well as others in our future.