Fearless Advocacy: When Will All Mean All for Staff?

Carmen DarvilleIn our BOLD Commitment to EQUITY series, members of Team 2020, our Executive Leadership Team, share how their work helps to eliminate educational inequity to advance social justice. Carmen Darville, YES Prep’s Chief of Staff, is the guest author of our first installment. As Chief of Staff, Carmen works to achieve organizational effectiveness through CEO support, risk, compliance and strategic management, and cross functional project management. Carmen received her B.A. from Case Western Reserve University and a M.Ed. in educational leadership from University of Texas-Austin. Prior to YES Prep, Carmen worked in Texas’s two largest ISDs leading aggressive human resources turnaround efforts.

I am a firm believer in humility and fallibility, but there are a few subjects I am unapologetic about: fearless advocacy for underserved students, high levels of expectations and accountability for adults enlisted to serve them, and my Black girl magic (aye!).  While any of these could be a separate commentary, this piece will briefly touch on all three.

Three times a year, YES Prep administers its System Survey which provides a snapshot of employee satisfaction and insight into the organization’s progress and health. Our diversity of thought is a beautiful, sometimes painful complexity, and the System Survey is just one way that leadership seeks to understand the variety of perspectives and opinions at YES—variety that, ultimately, pushes us to be our best selves.

Shortly after I arrived at YES Prep, I dug into the System Survey and realized that the diversity metric didn’t seem to capture the depth or scope of what we sought to be the employee experience. At YES Prep, we believe that All Means All—the idea that we are here to ensure that every single student—no matter their background, immigrant status, special education classification, language– receives an excellent education and access to opportunities, including college matriculation. As I was analyzing the survey results with other leaders, the same question arose: Does All Means All apply to staff as well?

At YES Prep, we believe every person has limitless potential and it is our responsibility as educators to create the conditions and offer the supports that will nurture this potential.

This belief applies to both, the more than 12,000 students whom we are privileged to serve and the hundreds educators and administrators who dedicate themselves to our mission – to increase the number of college graduates from underserved communities in Houston.

Our belief in the limitless potential of individuals requires us to recognize that people are fallible. Without learning from our mistakes, we cannot grow. I, myself, grew significantly from a previous professional and very public failure. Through deep self-reflection, I focused on improving empathy, building transformative relationships, and working hard to fulfill my unwavering commitment to educational equity.

So, does All Means All apply to staff as well? Here is my conclusion: We employ people of differing backgrounds, religious affiliations, political views, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and ages. What is most important, however, is that staff are committed to giving their best selves to ensure students’ zip codes do not determine the quality of the education they receive.  We know that, when adults can bring their whole selves to work, they are best positioned to serve students. As such, we wanted to dig into our commitment to an inclusive environment for mission-aligned adults, so they can serve as humble leaders. Our diversity ambassadors willingly took on the challenge of drafting a refreshed diversity metric that is more reflective of the experience we desire for our staff.

The diversity ambassadors revised the diversity metrics on our system survey to include an additional question (in green below):

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It’s noteworthy that even as we grow and become more diverse, we are also becoming more inclusive. But it is equally important to note that while the results overall are impressive, the reality is that, among our staff, all does not mean all yet.

Here is some of the work underway to realize the desired improvement. We will:

  • Prioritize the development and implementation of a culturally competent professional development program for campus and system leaders and embedding accountability to cultural competency in performance evaluation (Strategic Initiative 6). All will never mean all if we fail to embrace and honor each other and our students as unique individuals.
  • Continue to support the work of YES Prep’s diversity ambassadors as they create and enact strategic plans for their campus or office and serve as examples to the system of progressive thought and action in this work.
  • Provide time and space for staff to learn, evolve, discuss, and grow in their understanding of difference.
  • View the value of our differences as additive. We don’t suppress, silence, or withhold the attributes that make us uniquely who we are, even if they seem, on the surface, to be oxymoronic.
  • Lead by example in the educational landscape by aligning our actions to our dialogue.
  • Commit to finding our way to diversity AND inclusion, to growth through dialogue, to creating equity and giving the most to those that have the least.

The work of inclusion is unending, complex, and at times mind-bogglingly difficult. We cannot go it alone and must bring teammates, advocates, and allies along with us in the work. That is what will create sustained change. Our commitment to continuing to move in an aligned direction, toward not only diversity but also inclusivity and equity, will position us a step closer to a place where All Means All. For it is our differences—and the celebration of them—that makes us uniquely who we are. When we get to show up each day as our best selves, we are positioned to deliver on the promises we made to our students and their families, and it’s one of the many reasons that I know YES is exactly where I am supposed to be.

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