Duke School’s Known Knowns: Becoming a Model of Equity and Justice

Dave speaks about our "known knowns" and how Duke School's Director of Equity and Justice, Emily Chávez, is working to help make the school more equitable and just.

Kathy Pearson, a past professor at Wharton School of Business and a specialist in strategic planning, takes businesses to task for not preparing for known unknowns. A known unknown is a trend, idea or product that you suspect will change your business environment, but you are not sure how.
In schools, we know that Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is getting more and more powerful. What we don’t know is how it will affect schools. AI could allow us to reduce the number of teachers—if a machine can teach children with infinite patience more cheaply than people, why not reduce the number of teachers? On the other hand, we might discover (my bias) that no machine can replace the personal relationship between students and teachers and that for a student to be educated they need to understand. In that case, the advent of AI will force schools to hire more personnel. This is what happened with the advent of computers. While in most businesses, computers added to efficiencies—business got work done more quickly and with fewer people—in schools computers added inefficiencies. Not only did they not replace teachers—thank goodness—they caused us to hire staff to teach how to use them and how to integrate computer work into the curriculum.
Pearson also talks about known knowns and strategically preparing for them. We know that as our innovation and creative work expands, we are going to need more space. We need to strategically prepare how to get the space or how to shrink the program.
Years ago, an unknown known was that Duke School’s population did not mirror Durham/Chapel Hill’s population in racial and ethnic make-up. Wisely, the school decided that having a more diverse student and employee population is a moral imperative. We also decided that we must assure that our families of color feel they are equal partners in the school and that our students of color feel fully included in all aspects of the life of the school. With that strategic question answered we moved into the known known territory. The critical question became, “how will we move toward our goal of being more inclusive?”
Duke School worked to meet the goal through Professional Development for employees, board members and parents. We had ongoing discussions on equity topics, began student and adult affinity groups, and hired consultants to give us guidance. This year we took another important step—we hired our first Director of Equity and Justice, Emily Chávez. Emily’s role includes helping all of us—employees, students, parents and prospective families and employees—continue the work of creating a more inclusive Duke School. As of now, Emily has met with families, teachers, and students. While she is currently in an information-gathering stage, her presence and her equity lens have made us a stronger and more inclusive school already. Throughout the year, we will share some of the initiatives she is spearheading and talk about her work within our community.
If you have not yet met Emily, please make the time to do so. If you are a parent and have not joined the L.I.F.E. Conversations, please do. Everyone should feel free to reach out to Emily (Emily.Chavez@dukeschool.org) or me with ideas about how to further the work.
Now that Emily is getting to be known, we hope we move closer to our strategic goal of being a model of equity and justice.
    • Emily Chávez, Duke School's Director of Equity and Justice

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