The first of its kind, the center’s mission is to help students thrive, not by accident but by design.
Last month, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the district’s new Center for Equity + Social Justice (CESJ).
Dr. Tauheedah Baker-Jones, the district’s Chief Equity + Social Justice Officer, said that the office is devoted “solely to advancing equity in education and offer thought partnership in accountability, as well as support to the district for implementation of their equity-focused base (or even data-based) practices that [the school board] are trying to incorporate or rolled out the district.”
From integrating social, emotional and academic practices to ensuring equitable learning environments, the center’s vision is to inspire a diverse, inclusive and responsible organizational culture that will serve as a national model for intentionally, explicitly and sustainably addressing equity challenges in education.
Having over 19 years of experience in the education field, Baker-Jones is the first person to hold this position in the state of Georgia after the Atlanta Board of Education adopted APS’s equity policy in its five-year strategic plan in 2019.
Shortly after the district’s incoming superintendent, Dr. Lisa Herring took office, she added the phrase “social justice” to the Baker-Jones’s position and department.
Baker-Jones told SaportaReport that she decided to add that category at the time “our nation was in pain,” after “witnessing the death of Geroge Floyd and the rallies” and “the uprising at our nation’s capital.”
Since the late 1800s, Baker-Jones said that education has been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion by establishing equity to form a “more perfect union.”
She continued, “I feel that public education was established on the principle of equity and what we are not working on centuries later is trying to make the realization and promise of public education a reality for all kids.”
Involved in many facets of the district, the CESJ works hands-on with students, their families and their communities to help them excel inside and outside the classroom.
The team at CESJ has implemented several projects to enhance equity in Atlanta’s public schools, including a film project where North and South Atlanta high school students will create a documentary about equity in the school system. They are also teaching kindergarteners about sharing with their classmates and declaring October “bully prevention” month.
“Those are topics that are age-appropriate that you introduce at the younger grade,” Baker-Jones said. “[It will help] involve them in the conversation.”
Additionally, diversity in the classroom is an essential endeavor for the CESJ.
APS’s teaching staff is currently 23 percent male, and only four percent of all teachers are Latinx. This program seeks to make these ratios more representative of the student populations.
APS was awarded a grant from the New School Venture Fund for $150,000 to develop efforts to recruit more male, Black and Latinx teachers.
“As educators, we do a disservice not only to our students but to our nation to not educate our students on the value of what those ideals [of a more perfect union] mean when we say ‘justice for all,’” Baker-Jones said.
You can find The Center for Equity + Social Justice at the APS Central District office on Trinity Ave.
Log onto the APS website to find out more about how the center is improving diversity and inclusion within the school system.