Spotlight on male Latino educators: Portland Public Schools’ Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero

Welcome to part two of the Equitable Education portfolio's three-part series focused on Latino male educators.

According to the most recent Oregon Statewide Report Card, 22.6 percent of Oregon's public school students are Latinx while only 4.5 percent of Oregon teachers match these students. That gap in visual and cultural representation in our classrooms contributes to the persistent achievement gap for Latinx students as compared with their white peers. This lack of diverse representation is consistent throughout Oregon's education leadership.

Earlier this year, I sat down with Portland Public Schools' (PPS) new superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero, just one of three male Latino superintendents scattered across Oregon's 198 districts, to talk about the journey to his current leadership position as well as his hopes for a more diverse and representative Oregon education workforce. The superintendent took the helm of PPS just after the 2017-18 school year began and recently celebrated the completion of his first school year with graduates around the district.

Superintendent Guerrero often shares his belief in student-focused leadership, but for Oregon's Latino boys and young men, he may represent a specific hope for the future. In the Education Week article linked in the first blog of this series, one of the students interviewed said, "You can't be what you can't see." The superintendent is making himself visible and providing a leadership model for all students in the district, with a keen eye on empowering Latinx students.

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero speaking
2018 Statewide MEChA Conference at Lincoln High School

Like other students of color, Latinx students are lagging behind in achievement and graduation rates across the state and country: 69.4 percent of Latinx students in Oregon graduate on time as compared with 76.6 percent of white students. Recently, as the keynote speaker at the Mente Summit, an event created to inspire male Latino students through role models and mentorship to graduate and pursue higher education, Superintendent Guerrero encouraged the young men in attendance to work hard for their dreams and reassured them that success should never mean leaving behind their culture. In the current political climate, that's a powerful message that is in many ways contradictory to messaging they may receive in some of their schools and greater communities. This interview has been edited.

Bekah Sabzalian:

How did you find support as a young male Latino teacher? Do you think the needs of male Latinos differ from other teacher candidates, teachers and administrators?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

When I entered education, it was as a classroom aide [paraprofessional] and serving in a community where I lived alongside students. I shopped at the same markets, went to the same laundromats, ate at the same places. For me, working in schools was and is about serving the community.

As far as the question around the needs of male Latinos, I think that many of the supports and needs are the same that any new teacher would have. Hopefully, there's mentorship, there's district and building support, there's coaching available to all of our new educators. But hopefully, we're putting an especially mindful eye on our new professionals that may feel more isolated or feel a little bit of a cultural disconnect when they're working in a school where they may represent the only adult of color in that community.

Bekah Sabzalian:

Since moving to Oregon you tweeted, "Can we increase efforts to better ensure there are more teachers and educational leaders of color in the state of Oregon? We need to effectively recruit, prepare, hire and support diverse candidates." What are your ideas for getting this work done?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

There are some proven strategies we should be incorporating, here in Portland Public Schools, everywhere, especially in urban school districts. There's a diversity that exists with support staff or paraprofessionals. This is the group of employees that's the most embedded and familiar with the community; they're very known to the families and the students. We should encourage them to get their certifications, and we should support them.

School districts should be working closely with all of their surrounding higher education institutions. I've made it a real priority to get very familiar with all of the local university presidents and college of education deans. I've now met with all of them, and my line of questioning is similar when I first meet with them: "Tell me about the connective tissue between your institution and PPS. Tell me about your teacher education program. Tell me how you recruit, what kind of candidates you're looking for? How are you promoting diversity in those programs?" Because I well understand, if candidates of color are not completing their programs, then I'm not going to have a pool in the end.

Also, I've led in school districts where we partner with universities to create an urban teacher residency program. That's another pool of folks who, in partnership with the colleges, we're able to embed in our schools and have the benefit of a full-time resident working under a mentor teacher while they're going about their studies. Generally, a principal will have a resident working under a teacher in their school; then something opens up, somebody retires, the resident teacher tends to be the natural candidate for a slot because they're already woven into the fabric of the school. Urban teacher residency programs and other residency programs like that featured in the article are very important components.

We can also start at the high school level. We think of traditional career and technical education (CTE) programs, but you can create one for teachers, too. Here, students are getting that experience while in high school, learning about some of the pedagogy that drives the profession and finding on-ramps into some of those higher education programs. You see a lot of college of education deans now rethinking how you get a four-year education degree and certificate. I think that's forward thinking. I think it's tough for folks that are contemplating the profession to do another year of graduate study. The tuition and the investment of time it takes can be a barrier when you're not necessarily entering a high-paying career. I think if this country had its priorities right, it would emphasize the importance of public education. We would think about how to incentivize the career for talented individuals, those who are fantastic with kids but just can't afford to make teaching a career.

Bekah Sabzalian:

Recently, a PPS high school student of color asked you at City Club about diversifying the teacher workforce before he graduates. You responded that education leaders must move carefully to ensure that implementation is effective. How do you balance the urgency of the issue, clearly demonstrated by this passionate student, with careful implementation that often takes a great deal of time?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

First of all, I applaud that student for bringing it up and for having the agency to say, "I know you're building a school system out, and I want to experience and get a taste of that before I walk across the stage."

How do you balance the urgent with systemic building? There are some pools where educators or support staffs of color do exist. What I would say is, how do we begin to identify some of those individuals and elevate their visibility for our students? We see some small examples of that happening now. I'm very interested in seeing how do we take that paraprofessional who is very dynamic, who has great relationships with the students and the families, and involve them in visible positions? Like student advisers, student success coaches, how can we have them lead culturally specific student unions? We should have them lead affinity groups so that we increase the access that students may have to adults of color who work in their school communities.

That's one immediate mechanism we might be able to move on more rapidly so that the student doesn't have to wait for a chance to work with diverse educators. We have a number of schools that are piloting that work.

Bekah Sabzalian:

The article talked about the barriers male Latino teachers face, one of them being community perceptions of low pay, lack of visibility and a knowledge gap around advancement opportunities. What do you see as significant barriers to creating a steady pipeline of Latino male teachers?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

When you bring up community perceptions of the profession, that doesn't necessarily only apply to future educators of color. I think the education profession in this country certainly doesn't always carry the level of status or commensurate compensation that we say is important when they're serving our children. So there's that, then you layer on top of that educators of color, or college graduates of color, who we already know don't represent a high percentage of those who finish higher ed. They're posed with a question, internally, around, "What are my career choices going to be?" Often times, they're first in their families to graduate college, so when they're faced with making a choice like that, I think, in many families, they tend to lean the conversation toward certain vocations. Teaching doesn't tend to, unfortunately, come up first. For those with a Latino background, we know that in Latin American countries, "El Maestro" carries not just a term of endearment, but a pretty high level of esteem. There is certainly some respect for the profession.

But it is a challenge. How do we not only encourage more college graduates to consider the profession, but how do you attract graduates of color to entertain the idea of serving, often times in an underserved community, with students who perhaps might look like them?

Bekah Sabzalian:

Statistically, there are not many Latinx professionals serving as principals or in district leadership roles. What was the push that made you make that leap into administration?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

I have to say part of what drew me to education was that I didn't generally have a positive K-12 experience. Starting off as a young teacher, I didn't generally have a positive experience. In this profession, one can't help but notice that things could be a lot better. I think what sustained me through those early years is a feeling of fortification and nourishment from the community around me. I was a Spanish bilingual teacher. Naturally, the 30 fourth- and fifth-grade kids in my combination class, they all looked like me as did all of their parents. For me, I felt good about the teaching and learning experience that I was able to provide. Those were sort of the best years of my career in some ways, were my first years as a teacher. I know people often say those are the toughest years. I can tell you my first year as a teacher was by far my best year. I just had a great time. I loved the connections with my students and their families.

When I made the decision to move into administration, there weren't a lot of Latino principals but I knew some and I knew they were doing good work and I appreciated hearing about their experience. I think part of it is, we apply a lot of these characteristics to our Latino students; in many ways they're similar to Latino young professionals. There's a certain tenacity, persistence and grit that exists in the community. We tend to only use those words with people of color, but we're used to modeling those characteristics.

Bekah Sabzalian:

What supports would be helpful as more diverse educators take the leap into administration and district leadership?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

We need monthly dinners for our new administrators. Let's bring together our first-year principals, especially those of color, and make sure they're there. Reach out, give them that personal invite and let's order pizza and talk about how it's going. Let's talk about what the challenges have been, what's going well, and let's talk about some of the "just in time" learning the districts can provide for them. You're coming up on evaluation season or budget development time or hirings. We need to make sure to give you white-glove service all the way through.

Sometimes new educational leaders may be a little shy to raise their hand and express, "I don't know how to do this." Maybe it goes back to some of the persistence mindset like, "I'll just figure it out." We don't want any of our folks to work in isolation. We want them to feel very supported in this already challenging work.

Bekah Sabzalian:

To end things out, I'm wondering, what has kept you in education all these years?

Guadalupe Guerrero:

Well, public education still has not guaranteed the opportunity that it promises to students of color. They continue to represent the bottom end of a very persistent achievement and opportunity gap. There is a lot of important work that remains to be institutionalized. We need to reimagine public education so that it serves all students, all diverse learners. Not just kids of color, kids with disabilities, kids who are language learners, immigrant students, historically underserved kids.

We have not yet delivered on that promise and what keeps me motivated is to do my part, to try to be the best servant leader that I can be to elevate this, both as an important topic and also to concretely do something about it. There's something fundamentally wrong with the system when you see the kind of disproportionality that affects our students of color. They're the most often referred to the office, they're the most often suspended, they're most often the ones who drop out, they're most often the ones who are not prepared when they enter kindergarten.

Our new teachers are less likely to look like our students. It's hard to find principals to lead our communities of color who are themselves diverse. We are in the state of Oregon where out of 198 school districts there are only two other Latino male superintendents in this entire state. It's no different when you look at the 10,000 school districts in America.

I think it's important to make sure that the demographic is more representative of a country where our students are increasingly of diverse backgrounds to raise the lens and sensitivity to the needs of students, to approach this work in a more culturally responsive way. I am here, taking up the challenge, doing my part in a school system that unfortunately demonstrates many of the same patterns and see if we might disrupt that. Key to the work is joining hands with a lot of partners and supporters who are like minded and who see that serving our children is of the greatest importance. That can't be just a conversation, that can't be something that maybe happens 10 years from now, but something we can do today, tomorrow and begin to put into place networks of support for our students and our educators who are motivated to serve our students of color to be more successful. That doesn't mean you have to be a person of color to contribute to that. We just have to share the same equity and social justice commitment.

–– Bekah

In this interview, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero uses the term Latinos when speaking about the entire community. At Meyer, we often use Latinx as an alternative to Latino or Latina to refer to people of Latin American descent. Latino male specifically references males from the Latinx community.

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero
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Meyer and partners award inaugural grants for Health & Education Fund

Four years ago, when Oregon was in the midst of transforming its health, education and early learning systems, The Oregon Community Foundation, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, CareOregon, Northwest Health Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust convened a small workgroup of education experts to investigate new strategies to better align cross-sector work. Our goal was to improve health and education outcomes for Oregonians –– especially for children facing the greatest obstacles.

Last January, Meyer trustees approved a $600,000 investment over three years in the Health and Education Fund to support innovative approaches to bridge the gaps between health, education and early learning systems and promote collaboration across the philanthropic, education and health care sectors to address systemic barriers and improve school-age life outcomes.

The Fund's collective approach holds youth at the center while elevating and supporting community strengths, complementing existing state and regional initiatives, recognizing parents, families and communities as the experts of their own experience and ensuring their participation in the design of solutions right from the beginning.

Earlier this year, the Health and Education Fund invited applications from organizations focused on family leadership and resilience to improve outcomes in education, healthcare and early learning. Meyer is pleased to join our partners in awarding $1.2 million in grant funds to 21 organizations throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.

For more information about the Health and Education Fund and the projects supported through this grant cycle visit NWHF.

–– Matt

Photo caption: Foreground, a young child listens to a book on a computer.
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Spotlight on male Latino educators: Marty Perez

A key outcome for the Equitable Education portfolio is increasing workforce diversity in public K-12 education. We're always on the lookout for research and programs with the ability to grow our knowledge about this important equity issue. That's why an article from ED Weekly focused on building a pipeline of male Latino educators caught our attention. The article highlighted barriers that male Latino teacher candidates face when deciding to enter a teacher preparation program, challenges they may face while teaching within the education system and targeted programs designed to support their success. Latinx students make up about 25 percent of our student body nationwide, but only 2 percent of our teachers are male and Latino. In this blog series, inspired by creating a more reflective education workforce, I'll share recent interviews I've had the privilege to engage in focused on the unique experiences and perspectives of male Latino educators in Oregon. All the interviewees for the series are male Latinos, spanning the education profession but with commonality in their purpose and struggles. We hope by sharing their stories and their insights, we'll be able to draw attention to the great value male Latino educators bring to public education and help to spark conversation around the state toward recruitment and retention of this rare and impactful population of educators.

The first interviewee in our series is Marty Perez. Marty is an accomplished educator; he's been teaching for almost a decade at both the middle and high school levels. He is dedicated to the teaching profession, dual immersion programming and closing the achievement gap. He is vice chair of the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission representing secondary educators and serves on the Oregon Governor's Council on Educator Advancement, where his valuable insights helped to shape the council's November 2016 report. The son of a Mexican American immigrant and a Klamath tribal member, Marty has spent his life navigating a bicultural, bilingual family while striving to promote academic excellence through Latino and Native representation in our public schools. Currently he teaches high school Spanish in the Portland area. This interview has been edited.


Bekah Sabzalian:

What inspired you to enter teaching?


Marty Perez:

I was about ready to finish my undergraduate degree in 2008, and I was looking for my next chapter, my next step. I had spent all this time and energy into a four-year degree in Spanish literature. I got a minor in business, and then I got a second minor in economics. I was very vulnerable about my next stage in life, and thankfully, I heard about the Sapsikwala teacher training program at the University of Oregon. I decided, "Hey, I could be an educator. I could be a teacher, and I think that I could be a pretty successful Spanish teacher." That is exactly what I did. I applied for this federally funded program and received a letter confirming my admittance.

That was when all the chips were in for me to become an educator. I decided that if somebody was going to pay for me to be a teacher, if somebody was going to invest in me for a certain mission or a vision, then I'm going to try to hold true to their investment for as long as I possibly can. I was committed to teaching in schools with Native American populations. I've taught in Alaska, California and Oregon.

Another moment when I knew education could be a calling was when I was a sophomore and junior in high school. I used to tutor fifth- and sixth-graders through the 21st Century Community Learning Program, which used federal money to provide supplemental resources to students in the areas of math and English, and I enjoyed it. It was maybe one and a half, two hours after school. I was making enough money in that moment to pay for my car payments and some gas, and I felt like it gave me this experience that wasn't too formal. I was able to interact with kids on a different level, that wasn't this teacher level. I felt like I had ways to communicate the tricks to navigate certain benchmarks, or content standards, or whatever the function may be; I felt that I was able to convey a message that it was attainable.


Bekah Sabzalian:

It sounds like when you decided to pursue teaching, it was in a supportive program.



You know, I really read through the Sapsikwala mission statement and materials; my experience echoed 90 percent of the statistics that were stated. Growing up in small rural town, Tulelake, Calif., I had zero educators of color. To reference the Ed Weekly article, I could really relate to the teacher, Angel Magana, making a connection with other people of color in the school building who are not in an educator role. My mom was an instructional assistant, or a teacher's assistant, who worked in the school system: In my eyes, the roles that people of color are carrying out in schools, day-in and day-out, are just as important as a teacher, principal or politician. Without them and their work, the school environment would not function.

In the graduate program, we were a cohort within a cohort. Thankfully I had that experience. I just felt like when I was in the Sapsikwala program, there were some twenty-odd Native American educators who were pursuing the same dream, trying to envision the same mission that was set before them. That support definitely led to my success.



Once you became a teacher, how did you find support?



As a first-time Spanish teacher, I was living in Anchorage, 3,000 miles away from everything I was familiar with. I quickly became friends with the school secretary, the custodial staff, the people who were holding down the "service" positions within the school. That made my time there bearable. I also was a very gregarious person; I reached across different departments and found friends in the math, special education and English departments. I tried to make sure that everybody knew that I was here to not only be an educator, but also to make those connections that would ultimately make me feel like I belonged in the building. They did an excellent job at Mears Middle School in Anchorage.

But if we were to analyze the teaching staff by race, there were only a handful of educators of color among close to 80 staff members. Most of the them were working in the world language department and or in the Indian education program.



I love that example about how you just built community so you could stay.



And I had to.



You're from a culturally and racially blended family. How has that affected your approach to teaching?



My dad worked in agriculture for 30 years. My mom, the only one of eight in a Native American household who graduated high school, has been extremely impactful. They've both affected my approach to teaching because I feel like their stories are often left out of text books; they're left out of examples; they're left out of conveying a message that the work that they put in to the system is ultimately as important as any other profession out there. I will often reference my dad and my mom when I teach and when I bring up certain concepts, especially talking about strict parents or Latino experiences. My students truly understand and love and have validation from that perspective.



Your mom is from a Native tribe and your dad was born in Mexico?



My mom, myself and my daughter, we are from the Klamath tribes. We're of the Modoc Tribe, and my dad is from a little, little place in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His town is called El Mezquite Grande. He came when he was 12 or 13 to the United States and has been working in agriculture ever since. He taught himself how to be a mechanic. He can barely read or write but he can tear apart huge heavy machinery and diagnose a problem and fix it. He is self taught, which is incredible. Such resilient genes reside in myself and my daughter, but don't ask me to fix anything. I will save that for the experts.



What's kept you in education all these years? What makes you hopeful for Oregon's education system?



You know, I will say, I always think back to the Sapsikwala program and their vision and mission of getting indigenous educators inside classrooms to teach indigenous students and other students of color in a way that is missed by the majority of the teaching field. I wanted to stay true to the mission, and they invested a lot of money in me to become an educator. Even though they only asked us to make our repayment for a few years after we received our degree and our license, I sometimes have a hard time letting go because somebody has invested money in me. I was given an opportunity, and I feel grateful for it.

I also feel like what keeps me in my current position is my department. I couldn't ask for a better department, and when we spoke about my community that I formed in Alaska, I've been creating this community in every position since. I feel like I have a community at my high school. I don't have to explain myself when I am upset regarding something I just heard or some micro-aggression that I just had to deal with. They get it, and they don't only get it in real life, but they're able to convey that "it" in a different language as well. I think it's remarkable to know that the community, the department, has helped me stay in a difficult environment.

What originally hooked me at my school has kept me there: the students. I saw a lot of students of color who were poor on the socioeconomic scale, but they were rich in knowledge and they were so wealthy with grit and they wanted so much for their family. They wanted so much for their community, and they were determined to get it. Knowing that I helped them keeps me hopeful and fuels my desire to continue in the teaching profession.



How do you help your students navigate experiences that they have, that they feel are discriminatory or they feel are microaggressions?



I've had a lot of students come up to me, and they say, "I see you as that angry uncle who will go to bat for us. I see you as that strict father that we know, if we step out of line, we will get reprimanded or get corrected in some way." I will put my title on the line when it comes to helping students sort and navigate a system that was not designed for them.

I have many students bringing problems and dilemmas to me that are often never repeated to anybody else, other than maybe their parents. They share with me and I bring it to my administrator's attention, and I think it's important for them to know that they have an advocate, an ally and a teacher on their side. I won't be the one to tell them, "I think you're stepping in the wrong direction or you're overreacting to something that wasn't meant to be big." I will always try to validate their perspective and their concern. I try to give them the tools that they need to be successful, in order to graduate on time.



We have big gaps, right? We have made some progress but the achievement gaps between students of color, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, they've remained consistent. We've never reached a point where we've had a representative teacher workforce that matches the students. But we do know that where there are highly skilled representative teachers, there is positive achievement for students of color. We do know representation and culturally responsive teaching works, we just haven't gotten there yet.



I think that a lot of what is achieved by having students taught by educators of color is often something that is hard to measure. How do we measure that positive cultural shift? How do we measure the ability to reflect on your own person, see a teacher leader who looks like you, can understand your struggles and because of this, know that you're not confined to entry-level positions?

I feel like I would have been content working alongside my dad in the fields and his message to us always was, "Don't ever feel like this work that I do is below you." It is something that is needed, and my dad is probably one of my biggest fans.

I remember when I graduated with my bachelor's degree, he used to tell everybody, "Oh my son's a licenciado." Licenciado has a double meaning: It could be a lawyer or just somebody who has a formal degree. It was almost like that was his entry point into many conversations. "My son is a licenciado; he has this degree." I carry my dad and his story with me, on my shoulders, and I guess he vicariously tells his story through me.

It's beautiful to know that there are so many stories out there in this world that have never been told, they've never been taught in a public forum. It is disheartening and it's sad that classrooms have excluded the stories, cultures and histories of so many of our students. I think all kids, regardless of color, deserve to hear these diverse stories and they also deserve to be taught by a qualified individual who loves their job, a teacher who's passionate about kids and what they bring to the table.



Thank you for doing what you do, Marty!

A quote from Marty Perez: I think that a lot of what is achieved by having students taught by educators of color is often something that is hard to measure. How do we measure that positive cultural shift? How do we measure the ability to reflect on your own person, see a teacher leader who looks like you, can understand your struggles and because of this, know that you’re not confined to entry-level positions?

Marty Perez is an accomplished educator; he’s been teaching for almost a decade at both the middle and high school levels. He is dedicated to the teaching profession, dual immersion programming and closing the achievement gap.

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Investing in meaningful public education for all

The Equitable Education portfolio is excited to announce our 2018 Annual Funding Opportunity! Meyer will invest approximately $3.4 million to advance our vision of ensuring meaningful public education for all students in Oregon through focusing on the urgent needs of today's students and reshaping the system to eliminate gaps before they begin.

This is the second round of annual funding for the Equitable Education portfolio. At the end of 2017, we awarded 50 grants out of 167 competitive applications. These grants reflected a mix of rural and urban organizations offering both a vision and approach to directly address educational disparities. Of primary importance was their collective belief that for Oregon to flourish, each student — regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, geography, disability, sexual/gender identity or language — must have the opportunity to succeed in school. We are excited to see how this work flourishes over the next few years!

The Equitable Education portfolio will begin accepting Initial Applications on March 15, with a deadline of 5 p.m. April 18, to advance one of the following Equitable Education funding goals:

  1. Build a movement to align community + education institutions to create systems- and policy-level impact.
  2. Improve student achievement and college and career readiness.

Meyer has identified several intended outcomes under each of these two goals, and we invite you to take a deeper look at our funding goals, strategies and outcomes as you consider how your work aligns with the vision for this portfolio.

What did we learn from last year's Annual Funding Opportunity?

The 2018 Annual Funding Opportunity represents a refinement of last year's framework based on current data as well as feedback we received from nonprofit and education partners. It's also designed to create what we believe to be the greatest opportunity to leverage Meyer's investments in education.

Although there might be modest adjustments to this year's Equitable Education goals and outcomes, equity remains central to all portfolio grantmaking. In 2018, successful applicants will continue to demonstrate a clear commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Through this lens, organizations will propose a vision and approach to analyzing and directly addressing education disparities experienced by our priority populations across Oregon. These students include:

  • Students of color
  • Indigenous students
  • English Language Learners
  • First-generation college students
  • Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or other sexual/gender identities
  • Students with disabilities
  • Students living on low incomes
  • Students in foster care

After our experience last year, we decided to create a visual guide to clarify what fits within the scope of our portfolio. We designed a "fit flowchart" that gives a broad-level glance to see if your work would generally fit with the scope of the portfolio; a companion piece to this is a one-page "insights" document that answers some common questions addresses application competitiveness. You can view that resource here.

What doesn't fit within the Equitable Education portfolio

The Equitable Education portfolio team values the essential work occuring every day across the education continuum, and we recognize that preparing an application requires a considerable investment of time and resources by an organization. Insights from last year have provided us with a clear perspective on what doesn't fit within the Equitable Education portfolio:

  • Education programs with universal, one-size-fits-all strategies not specifically designed for priority students, regardless of school, district or regional demographics.
  • Direct early education services; we will, however, support students during the transition between early education programs and kindergarten as well as preparing public schools to offer a smooth transition from home to school.
  • Strategies to address college retention and completion; however, we are interested in supporting efforts that smooth the transition between high school, or equivalent, and college and/or career.
  • K-12 private schools.
  • New or expanded programming developed without meaningful engagement with the priority population it's intended to impact.
  • Environmental education programming not specifically designed to meet the academic, social or cultural needs of priority students.

Learn more

Over the next month, general information sessions will be held across the state. In addition, two Equitable Education webinars will be conducted March 19 and March 23. You can sign up for the Equitable Education webinars here. If you're unable to attend any sessions, or if you have questions about a specific project, please feel free to contact us at questions [at] or 503-228-5512. You can also check out our Feb. 27 "Get to know Meyer's Equitable Education portfolio" webinar where we shared insights into what fits within the scope of our portfolio, offered our strategy for investing in the "gap," introduced our priority populations and much more.

Finally, we've organized a set of Applicant Resources to make the process easier. You'll find additional information, tools and advice on topics ranging from diversity, equity and inclusion to Meyer's definition of collaborations.

We look forward to working with you in the coming year!


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Centering equity in rural Oregon: An interview with Kelly Poe


Meyer’s focus on equity over the past few years has brought a powerful intention to our grantmaking and opened the door for community-serving organizations and institutions across the state to build their own equity infrastructure. This has been especially evident in rural Oregon communities. To tell the story of where and how equity has emerged, and operates, in three rural Oregon counties, we sat down with Kelly Poe, director of community based services at Malheur Education Service District.

Education service districts across Oregon are designed to provide services and programs that meet the specific needs of their local school districts. Like school districts, their purpose is to assure that all students have the educational opportunities that will prepare them for success beyond high school. Malheur Education Service District defines its work as a crucial ingredient across the entire education continuum, from birth to college and/or career.


Tell us about yourself and your work at Malheur Education Service District.

Kelly Poe:

I’m the director of community based services, and I serve Malheur, Baker and Wallowa counties. The position was created when the Commission on Children and Families went away, and the education service district chose to fully embrace the zero to 20 continuum of education. My job was to focus on those things outside K-12 walls. The Early Learning Division was formed (in the Oregon Department of Education), and they created hubs and regional hubs.

The Early Learning Division also required us to provide eight hours of structural racism training. I knew it was coming about a year before it actually was a requirement. I also knew that every time I talked about equity to our community advisory groups, cradle-to-career partners or one of the three counties, I could feel the tension in the room. People stiffened up and got ready to defend themselves.

Because it is a much easier conversation talking about equality, rather than equity, I knew it was going to be a challenging conversation. We could require people to attend an eight-hour structural racism training and they would, but behaviors and attitudes would not necessarily change.


Why do you think equality is an easier conversation and equity is a hard conversation?

Kelly Poe:

People don’t understand what equity is right off, and when you say equity, they immediately think you’re saying equality. And they treat everybody the same, because they love everybody. I have to say that in all three of my counties, I have not found a single person that sets out in their day to do bad things. Or to harm people. Or to plan to do disservice to families. They don’t.

I’ve met only really good people who want to do good work. And I am that person, too. I am that person who wakes up every day and sets out to do good work but realized, part way down the road, that my good intent is actually doing harm, and the sooner I find out, the better for everyone. So I have that lens when I look at other people and I think: They intend to do good, so let’s get informed of what equity is.


How do you start an equity conversation?

Kelly Poe:

One of the things that we’ve been saying is, “equity begins where equality leaves off,” and that’s been a good opener for some of our conversations.

I heard Dr. Bill Grace speak at a Ford Family Foundation workshop. He creates a space where people relax their guard and can have authentic, genuine conversations. He calls it “gracious space.” And I knew that’s what we needed.

We needed somebody to come to our communities who used common language, who could get people to that place of having a conversation and not be defensive. I called Bill and said, “This is what’s going on, we’re going to have to do this training, and I don’t think we’re prepared. It’s not going to make a difference. I want to do something that’s going to make a difference.” I know we have huge disparities in our communities and three counties that are extremely different from one another. As much as you say eastern Oregon is different from Portland, Wallowa County is different from Malheur County, and Baker County is different from either of the other two. You can’t do the same thing in each one of the counties; it has to be different.

Through a technical assistance grant from Ford, we paid for Bill to help us develop our plan and facilitate focus groups and a three-county workshop. After we completed the focus groups, it was clear that a three-county workshop would not be successful, so we had three workshops.

Our focus groups defined “gracious space.” We also came to a common definition of equity. We talked about our values. About two months later, we picked up on those themes and did a community assessment, asking: “So where do you think you are, as a community, in advancing equity? Are you at a place where you really are just crossing the threshold of raising awareness? Or is your community aware but they’re not dissatisfied? Do we need to raise the dissatisfaction? Or are you at the place, community is aware, people are dissatisfied, and we want to take action?” We started in Wallowa County, then Baker, then Malheur. After we finished all three, we said, “Well, we have to make three plans. We can’t do one, three-county plan for anything.”

So, we have three plans. It took us nearly a year to raise the money. Meyer was first. (Meyer program officer) Sally Yee believed in us. She said, “This is the conversation that we need to have.”


Meyer invested in this work in August 2016. How is it going so far?

Kelly Poe:

We have a really great group in Malheur County that meets with Bill once a month either in-person or we all get together in a room and he Skypes in. There’s 18 of us, including elders, members of the faith community, education and social services. We have nonprofits, health care, mental health; it’s just across the spectrum.

In Baker and Wallowa counties, we’re creating leadership groups, and they want to go deep.

People are passionate about this, but then when the work begins, it gets hard. One of the first things that Bill does is walk us through an exercise that helps us identify our own core values, and then we find common group values. So each county has a list of core, common values, and we can hold each other accountable to those. Love and family are core values that are in all three counties. Integrity and community, too. They’re all good values, but to be able to hold each other accountable, it requires us to go deep. It requires you to make this work meaningful.


What evidence are you seeing that work is taking shape in communities?

Kelly Poe:

They’re taking it in, and they are stepping up, but the reality of it is that some conversations are really challenging. Each community has a little bit different feel to it; there are three separate answers.

In Wallowa County, the workshops are complete and received really positive feedback. Conversations have ranged from creating a sense of belonging to the increasing fear of the newest members of the community. Our work with values-based leadership has been occuring at the same time as other diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) trainings through the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, so the local effort is on multiple fronts.

In Baker County, there’s a small group of people, about 15-20, who really caught on to values-based leadership as a tool in their own organizations. They are actively working toward embedding the values conversation into a plan to move work forward. They’ve created a monthly meeting that explores the book “Sharing the Rock: Shaping Our Future through Leadership for the Common Good” and creates a support network for sharing challenges and progress on how each participant, and organization they represent, is advancing equity. This group has great leadership and diversity. They’ve also done a deep dive into the history of Baker County, which is very complex. They’re continuing to build a deeper understanding of the work, what they believe and what their organizations can do collectively in preparation for moving forward larger community impact.

In Malheur County, we really felt the urgency, and we were ready to take action quickly, but we still focused on the need for relationship building. We initially intended to do a project, but because there is so much work to do, we couldn’t agree on one. Instead, we decided to create a movement, and that’s what the proclamation is: The Malheur County Compact for Advancing Equity is an effort to get institutions on board for proclaiming the need to advance equity throughout the whole community. Each of the organizations that signed the compact designated someone to attend and participate in the monthly, three-hour equity team meetings.

Another example of how the work is taking shape is a gathering of equity team members and community members focused on the topic of safety concerns for the refugees arriving in the Ontario area. This group, now known as Newcomers Support Committee, had no idea what they needed to do or how they were going to do it at first, but through their collaborative effort to authentically engage community, they developed a strategy, wrote a concept and submitted a proposal to the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative for consideration. Right now, we’re planning our second equity summit, scheduled for Nov. 1, 2018, and we hope it will be an opportunity for local institutions to “raise the bar” by showcasing their equity work.

In each community, the pace is appropriate, and in each situation, the community is working together to create a sense of belonging. I know people are going to say, “Oh, we’re not like them.” And they’re right. But this is just an example of something that could happen, and it only happened because local people drove it.


How do you think this will impact your work and the communities you serve?

Kelly Poe:

The commonality across all three counties is our ultimate goal of people who live in the community feeling like they belong and are welcome. We acknowledge now there are people in our community who don’t feel welcome, so knowing that, how do we create a community where there is a sense of belonging? In Malheur County, they call it “hope”; everyone should have a sense of hope. In every community, the end game is that everyone feels like they belong.

The Newcomers Support Committee learned this when they discovered there are refugees who arrive here and never feel like they are a part of the community. They’re required to stay one year, but after that, they leave. So how do we create a community that makes them want to stay? It’s huge for a community to say, “We want you to stay. You add to the fabric of our community; your culture makes us better.” It’s a shift in all three counties to say, “You think differently than I do and you believe differently than I do, and we need you to be here. Our differences make our community better.” That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.


Very well said, Kelly. Thank you for your time!

*While listening to Kelly describe the equity journey of Malheur, Baker and Wallowa counties, I was struck by the importance of communities to firmly establish their core beliefs and common values. As Meyer staff travel around the state, we often hear, “We’re different than them. That won’t work here.” And they’re right; of course communities are different. In our interview with Kelly, she artfully described exactly how different seemingly similar communities can actually be. But that’s not the reason something, equity in this case, might work in one community and not the other. The real barrier is a community’s lack of clarity — or identity — around the subject matter. If you’ve never ventured into the conversation, and you look at what someone else has accomplished, it’s understandable that your first response might be, “We’re different than them.”

But here’s the real difference between communities that have embraced equity and those that haven’t: When a community establishes its equity identity (i.e., common language, values, beliefs, accountability structures and protocols), they’re free to explore what other organizations and communities have done to advance equity and say, “That might not be exactly what we need, but it looks interesting and we might be able to modify it so we can accomplish our own goals.”

Once you’ve established the key foundational elements of your equity identity, you can then bring in new partners and new ideas and not relinquish or sacrifice any of what makes you, your organization or your community unique in the process. Your identity stays intact, and as Kelly suggests, new relationships and new information simply add to the “fabric of the community.”

— Matt


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Front of classroom diversity — and its impact on students of color

This year, Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio commissioned a literature review highlighting 11 dimensions of educational equity. Each of the 11 “chapters” serves as a resource for deepening educators’ and community-based organizations’ grounding in what research tells us about educational equity. Chapter 2, entitled “Teachers of Color in Classrooms and the Impact on Students of Color,” highlights the lack of racial diversity within Oregon’s K-12 teacher workforce — and why it matters.

Attached here is a virtual copy of the second chapter, which draws correlations between that lack of racial diversity and Oregon’s achievement gap for students of color, and suggests that increasing the number of teachers of color in classrooms across the state is imperative to reducing the achievement gap.

Meyer supports this work: 2017 grantee Portland State University’s Graduate School of Education Leadership for Equity and Diversity (LEAD) program plans to recruit, prepare and support educators of color through relationships with community-based organizations. This chapter also suggests providing teachers with cultural competency training based on behaviors of teachers of color, ensuring a heightened awareness of their own biases, could elevate academic achievement for students of color. Another education portfolio grantee, KairosPDX, a culturally based education nonprofit founded and directed by three women of color, will soon be training teachers across the state in equity, inclusion and trauma-informed practices to eliminate the achievement gap for our most vulnerable students.

The issue has long been identified as an area for increased support.

In a report released in 2004, “Assessment of Diversity in America’s Teaching Force: A Call to Action,” the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force stated: “Additional research is needed, but time is passing quickly and action is vital. We cannot continue to wait as more children of color fail to reach their potential and as fewer teachers of color join and remain in the education community.” Thirteen years later, the call reverberates as academic achievement gaps widen for students of color as compared with their white peers.

As a teacher of color working in a school with a predominantly non-white student population, I often heard exasperated white teachers refer to ”these kids” when referencing students of color. That statement always made me simultaneously cringe and ache, feeling inherently connected to the students given my own background. It expressed, seemingly without the speaker’s knowledge, that they felt the minority kids they were teaching were different from them — other, less civilized than the “good” kids. The statement “these kids” was often followed by “don’t have any respect,” “behave like animals” or “just aren’t getting it.” I would think to myself, “These teachers have B.A. and master’s degrees, right? They are ‘highly qualified’... right?” But having those credentials in no way guarantees that a white teacher will have the cultural competency skills needed to effectively reach students of color, skills often inherent for teachers of color.

When No Child Left Behind was instituted in 2001, it demanded that all children be educated by a “highly qualified” teacher, but it defined this without a racial or cultural competency lens. Although the intention of eliminating achievement disparities was good, policy-makers didn’t take into account the needs of students, especially students of color. A growing body of evidence makes clear that students of color or underrepresented students do better when they see themselves in those leading their educational experience.

Almost 90 percent of Oregon’s K-12 public education teachers are white, while almost 40 percent are students of color. Consequently, this means in Oregon students of color often go their whole school experience without seeing someone educating them that matches their racial background. Tyler White, a high school student in Portland, recently wrote a guest column describing his experience as a black student with mostly white teachers and the struggles he’s encountered because of this disconnect. Tyler White is not the only student of color feeling the effects of nonreflective teachers. National Public Radio’s article “If Your Teacher Looks Like You, You May Do Better In School” spotlights recent research echoing White’s experiences.

Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio knows growing and retaining the pool of teachers of color in Oregon is essential to addressing inequitable outcomes experienced by our most vulnerable students — vulnerable to systemic racism, to teacher biases, to unjust disciplinary actions, to inequitable access to advanced educational experiences (e.g. TAG and Advance Placement courses) and surveillance. We aim to promote the success of all Oregon’s students by bringing awareness to issues affecting equitable access to educational attainment and advancement to college and career with the goal of realizing a flourishing and equitable Oregon.

— Bekah

Teacher Andreina Velasco instructs young students at Earl Boyles Elementary School's Early Works program, an initiative launched by the Children's Institute in partnership with Meyer and other funders.

Teacher Andreina Velasco instructs young students at Earl Boyles Elementary School's Early Works program, an initiative launched by the Children's Institute in partnership with Meyer and other funders.

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Implementing Ethnic Studies

In late 2016, Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio commissioned a literature review highlighting 11 dimensions of educational equity. The purpose was to provide up-to-date information on issues that emerged as important in the statewide equitable education survey conducted by Meyer in early 2016. Each of the 11 “chapters” is a resource to deepen educators’ and community-based organizations’ grounding in the research-based insights on educational equity. Although there is variation across the chapters based on the resources available in the field, each chapter is a response to the field as a whole and has unique sections. We believe this is an important resource for advocates, educators and potential and current Meyer grantees. Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio aims to promote the success of all Oregon’s students; we hope this series is a resource for the task.

Attached here is a virtual copy of the third chapter, which highlights the importance of ethnic studies implementation and offers a “deep dive” into the academic and “gray” literature, emphasizing how it engages students of color and increases their academic success as evidenced by research.

This topic is of particular importance in Oregon as Gov. Kate Brown recently signed House Bill 2845, which directs the Oregon Department of Education to convene advisory groups to develop ethnic-studies standards into existing statewide social-studies curriculum. A similar bill, Senate Bill 13, which will develop curriculum for Oregon K-12 schools on tribal history and sovereignty, written from the Native American perspective, was also signed by Brown. Through a grant from Meyer, Western States Center coordinated a coalition of tribal and education advocates to inform Oregonians on the importance and benefits of such a curriculum. On both accounts, this bipartisan legislation fills a much-needed, and often overlooked, gap in Oregon’s public education system.

— Matt

Eurocentric curricula can lead students of color to disengage from academic learning, contributing to academic achievement gaps between African American, American Indian/Alaska Native and Latino students and their white and Asian American peers

Eurocentric curricula can lead students of color to disengage from academic learning, contributing to academic achievement gaps between African American, American Indian/Alaska Native and Latino students and their white and Asian American peers

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Deep educational investments across Oregon

Ten months after Meyer launched the Equitable Education portfolio, the first Annual Funding Opportunity has concluded, offering 49 grants across Oregon, totalling more than $7.2 million over three years.

The education portfolio began with the vision that all students have an opportunity to access meaningful public education. We sought to invest in inclusive opportunities designed to afford Oregon students the chance to realize their goals of increased academic achievement and remove disparities at all levels of the education continuum, from students entering kindergarten ready to succeed to planning for post-secondary and career success.

In service to this vision, we focused on three key goals:

  • Building a unified movement to advance equitable education.

  • Creating systems- and policy-level impact.

  • Improving student achievement and college and career readiness.

Out of 167 competitive applications, we invited 57 nonprofits to submit full proposals. You’ll find the full list of Equitable Education 2017 Annual Funding Opportunity grantees here.

Our new grantees reflect a mix of rural and urban organizations offering a vision and approach to directly address educational disparities so that all students in Oregon have the opportunity to obtain a meaningful public education. Of crucial importance is their collective belief that for Oregon to flourish, each student — regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, geography, disability or language — must have the opportunity to succeed in school.

Among the education grantees in the 2017 Annual Funding Opportunity, a few key themes emerged.

A number of grantees will demonstrate their commitment to mobilize individuals and organizations toward a common movement to advance equitable education. UniteOregon and Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, for example, will leverage their relationships and community credibility to mobilize the power and potential of students, families, communities and organizations toward unified action, meaningful change and education opportunity for all.

Other grantees will bring their experience to the systems and policy area. KairosPDX, Better Together Central Oregon and Douglas Education Service District all recognize that in order for education equity to be take hold, Oregon’s leadership, priorities and policies must better reflect the diversity of needs and the rich array of cultures and traditions of Oregonians.

Acknowledging the need to balance long-term system and policy impact with the urgency to address and improve achievement and college and career readiness for today’s students, groups such as Building Healthy Families, Central Oregon Community College and Southern Oregon Child and Family Council will focus their efforts on key transitional moments to boost student readiness and/or achievement. Additionally, organizations such as Building Blocks to Success, REAP and Hood River County School District committed to expanding programs that strategically target priority populations while introducing innovative solutions to address persistent and deeply rooted barriers to student success.

The Equitable Education portfolio team is grateful for the time and thoughtful intention of our applicants throughout this process. Like you, we believe that to advance change in both institutions and outcomes, we must challenge mainstream assumptions and practices, focusing on the needs of students most affected by educational disparities. While doing so, we reaffirm our collective commitment to meaningful public education for all. Thank you for joining us in taking another step toward our new, shared vision for equitable education in Oregon.


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Announcing Meyer's 2017 grant awards for the Equitable Education portfolio
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Myth…racism is over so we don’t need an equity initiative

Data in Oregon are clear:

A persistent education opportunity gap exists with regard to race, economics, disability and geography. Unfortunately, efforts over the years to address disparities have offered limited relief as the gap stubbornly continued its decades-long growth. Despite evidence of the need for educational equity for Oregon’s most marginalized communities, ill-informed and damaging myths have penetrated our collective consciousness, excusing us from the systems-impact work necessary to ensure meaningful public education for all.

In partnership with Dr. Ann Curry-Stevens, Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio aims to call out, and debunk, the incessant myths that function as barriers to equitable education in Oregon. This blog is intended to provoke both thought and action, offering an opportunity to look beyond common myths and re-imagine an education system rich in opportunity. It represents the beginning of a “myth-busting” series that will be shared regularly through portfolio newsletters and blog posts.

The idea that racism is over is an insidious myth.

Shockingly, just 16 percent of white Americans believe that there is considerable racial discrimination. Although it’s undeniable that we’ve made significant progress in civil rights, racism shows up in a variety of damaging ways. For example, according to a study, white Americans believe children of color feel less pain than white children. Such thinking isn’t evident among 5-year-olds, whose compassion hasn’t narrowed yet, though racial preference for white friends shows up that early. Additionally, white people judge black children to be older than they are, more dangerous and less innocent and also think lighter skinned people are “more intelligent, competent, trustworthy and reliable than their darker-skinned peers.” In Oregon schools, these realities show up in disproportionate discipline among students of color, increasing barriers to graduation.

Although today’s racism isn’t always easy to spot like in the past (e.g., slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, denial of citizenship, forced movement into residential schools, refusal to grant voting privileges, legal denial of housing, segregation of public services and “separate yet equal” education), it is alive and well. The progress we’ve made as a society has fallen drastically short of equity between people of color and whites. Research shows stark inequality in nearly every social and life indicator: education, income, wealth, home ownership, health, the justice system, the child welfare system, employment systems, higher education and many more. Some believe these inequalities exist as unfortunate historical remnants of a bygone era; the evidence, however, suggests something altogether different. Inequality is substantial and hasn’t budged; in many cases, it’s getting worse.

In education, racism shows up in public policy, too. Early learning opportunities based on who can afford it, do greater harm to children of color who disproportionately experience poverty. Children of color enter kindergarten already behind their white peers. And when public investment in education fails to keep pace with need, resulting in cuts to activities, curriculum and teachers, who manages to maintain a well-rounded education? Those who can afford it. Again, this leaves behind students in poor communities, often students of color. Whose histories are in the curriculum and whose are ignored or given little attention? Does our educator workforce reflect the vibrant diversity of Oregon students? These forms of racism exist not by intention (harm is meant), but by impact (harm is done).

One barrier to progress in equitable education is that advocates must continually make the case that racism exists, that it is pervasive and that it limits the academic progress of students of color. One writer put it this way: “If Americans assume racism is less of a problem [after Obama], then misperception may make it tough to get resources.”

A crucial action in debunking the “post-race” myth is to inform Oregonians about the type and depth of racial disparities that exist in our schools and the education system as a whole. Ask hard questions about patterns that create disparities and be prepared for the uncomfortable realization that the ideas, strategies, programs and institutions that we support, may actually be a part of the problem.

Another crucial action is to understand that as students of color in Oregon face deep, racialized challenges, white students are granted benefits that result from being white, instead of the result of effort or intelligence. This is a result of long-standing and deeply embedded racial hierarchies, with whites benefitting while people of color face barriers to equal progress. For example, which students do the teachers get to know, which names do they learn to pronounce correctly and which students are encouraged more? Research tells us that white teachers (who make up 90 percent of Oregon’s educator workforce) do a better job at teaching white students. For those not deeply engaged in education equity, this may be surprising. However, it also presents an opportunity to better understand the damaging effects of racism and the importance of unpacking privilege.

Racism can best be defeated when we notice it, acknowledge it and get to work on changing it. It’s a long, tough road, but the need is urgent and the future prosperity of our state depends on it. Let’s get to work.

I welcome your thoughts on this series of myths and myth-busting.

— Matt

Photo caption: A little girl in a yellow sweater takes notes during class.
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Leading on education: Matt Morton and Edgar Villanueva

Matt Morton, director of Meyer's Equitable Education portfolio, interviewed Edgar Villanueva, Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and board chair of Native Americans in Philanthropy.

Edgar recently wrote an article called Sit in It: Philanthropy Must Embrace Discomfort and Rapid Change on the Road to Achieving Equity.

They sat down together at the Native Americans in Philanthropy Summit in Los Angeles in May for a dialogue on equity, education, affinity groups and impact.

Matt Morton:

I was inspired by your recent article, “Sit In It,” which ran in the Huffington Post. You say “To achieve equity, philanthropies must make space for deeply troubling conversations, and keep having them.” So I’m really curious about that, embracing that discomfort, particularly in philanthropy. Talk with me about embracing discomfort when working toward equity in your work at the Schott Foundation and Native Americans in Philanthropy. What are some of the barriers you see, working in philanthropy, that have acted as barriers to authentic equity work?

Edgar Villanueva:

I’m pushing the philanthropic sector to have uncomfortable conversations that consider the origin of our work, the wealth to do this work—the source of the money. What I’ve found is that there are some great foundations that have really come to terms with how this wealth was accumulated—for the most part because of privilege—and in many cases, it was earned on the backs of people of color. Therefore, philanthropy must acknowledge that, apologize for that history, and be earnest in the equitable distribution of the wealth through our grantmaking strategies. Our priority is returning these resources to the communities from whence they came.

We must also acknowledge that private philanthropy exists in this country because of our tax system, which benefits the wealthy. Philanthropic dollars would have gone into the public trust; however, because of the tax benefits, there’s the opportunity for wealthy individuals or families to start their own foundations. However, if trustees and those who start foundations appreciate that the purpose of the funding is to benefit the public (and not money that is intended to preserve a family's legacy of wealth), it really results in a different kind of grantmaking strategy.

Take, for example, the Northwest Area Foundation in Minneapolis. They acknowledged that their money was made from the railroad business. Its founder built railroad tracks from Minneapolis all the way to the West Coast. As a result, several Native communities were negatively affected by the accumulation of that wealth. So now the foundation is very intentional about Native Nations in that region as a form of undoing the harm caused to those communities.

Matt Morton:

Yeah, 40 percent of their grantmaking is reserved for investment in tribal communities.

Edgar Villanueva:

Exactly. The wealth of that region is rooted in Native lands and communities, and the foundation committed to both acknowledging and honoring that history. That’s why they’ve devoted 40 percent of new grant dollars to Native-led organizations working to advance economic, social, and cultural prosperity in the region.

As another example, I’ve been talking with the leadership of the NoVo Foundation, who are getting a lot of things right in terms of truly listening to people impacted by disparities. They are designing a grantmaking strategy that truly reflects what they’ve heard. Often in the past, philanthropy used focus groups to say that they listened and then put out a grantmaking strategy that is really only what they thought should happen in the community. But if you read what Peter and Jennifer Buffett have written about NoVo and their approach to philanthropy, you will see that they have a profound awareness of their privilege, and they’ve also gone through a lot of reflection on their end to decolonize their thinking about wealth and giving. It really shows up in their grantmaking practices. NoVo is very committed to gender and racial justice, and they have an Indigenous communities portfolio. They are investing significant money into communities of color. So I think those who hold power and privilege at the top of these foundations have a responsibility to say, “Okay, because of the historical context that provided the opportunity for me to have these resources, it is my duty then to pay it back in a way that is respectful and supportive of those communities that had a part in generating this wealth but did not benefit from it.”

Matt Morton:

So, you’ve served on the board of Native Americans in Philanthropy for a number of years, and you were recently elected chair. What are your thoughts on philanthropic “affinity” groups and the role they play in philanthropy nationwide?

Edgar Villanueva:

I see great value in affinity groups. One critique that I have of philanthropy is that we love to talk, process, and intellectualize a lot. I could spend all of my time every day just talking to other funders, and there are numerous affinity groups to facilitate those connections. I think we have to assess which networks are providing value in pushing our work forward, those that are creating spaces for collaborative investment opportunities. The lens that I use is this: if being a part of this group is going to result in more money or move more resources to the communities that I care about, then I’m interested in being a part of it and trying to make that happen. I am interested in ongoing learning about issues. However, I operate with a sense of urgency and action so participating in networks that align with those values work best for me.

Identity-based affinity groups are important for a number of reasons. They provide support and networking opportunities for people of color and other marginalized communities in this field. This can be a difficult sector to work in if you come from a marginalized community. Those groups also provide critical education and information about various communities within the field. And they create opportunities for us to advocate and mobilize resources in a way that presents leveraging opportunities that we might not have otherwise.

I’m convinced that there is more money being invested in communities of color today because of the leadership of affinity groups who are pushing for it.

Matt Morton:

So it sounds like it’s a real balance between the significant need of representation of communities of color, marginalized communities and underrepresented communities in philanthropy with the sort of intellectual circling that happens in philanthropy, the tendency in this field to, “let’s talk it to death because we have that privilege. We have that opportunity to.”

Edgar Villanueva:

Absolutely. And it’s really important. If you’re Native like me, most of us are probably the only Natives in our organizations, seeing that there are only about 25 Natives that work in institutional philanthropy across the U.S. Native Americans in Philanthropy provides a platform for us to connect with one another, to amplify issues in our community and to be able to really advocate for investment in our communities in a way that we would not be able to do individually.

These kind of affinity groups are also providing a seat at the table and providing a platform for collective advocacy for increased philanthropic investment and advancing equity across the field.

Matt Morton:

Sometimes it’s very clear that people don’t understand what equity is and they confuse it with equality. So, because your foundation is focused on equitable education, I wondered if you’d explain in that context of education, what is the difference between equity and equality?

Edgar Villanueva:

I come from a public health background and started working health philanthropy, and I went in thinking that people who are trained in public health have a basic understanding of equity, right? We were trained in the social determinates of health, so we understand that race and ethnicity matter, where you live matters, your income level matters. All these social conditions are indicators that will likely determine your ability to live a healthy life.

Education is very different, even within philanthropy. Often race/ethnicity is something that is not talked about. Because education is a right that every child has in this country, people make assumptions that all kids are getting the same quality of education. We know this is not the case because schools in low-wealth communities, many serving kids of color, are grossly under-resourced, which leads to all kinds of problems in the system. The decisions that are made around education are very personal. And it’s very hard for someone to compromise or make a decision that may not be in the best interests of their child for the sake of the greater good.

In the past, philanthropic and advocacy work in education was often described through an “achievement gap” frame, which is really a negative narrative about how people of color are not achieving. Schott, early on, began to promote a frame around the opportunity gap versus the achievement gap. It’s not that kids of color are unable to achieve at the same level as other kids, but there’s an opportunity gap because kids are not starting in the same place due to the injustices that exist in the system and in community.

There are also other factors impacting kids of color outside of their classroom, like the ability of their parents to earn a living wage in their community or access to health care, in addition to the opportunity to learn.

The simple way to think about equity versus equality is to ask where are we starting from? You know if all things were equal at the very beginning of the start then applying the same amount of resources, programming, and intervention for everyone would be just fine. But you have to understand that a lot of kids of color are showing up in schools from day one with a lot of disadvantages that have to be compensated for in order for them to be on the same playing field as other kids.

Matt Morton:

One of the things that we’ve done at Meyer over the last year or so is to work hard to create that shared definition of equitable education and when we talk about our vision for equitable education we say we’re working towards “ensuring meaningful public education for all.”

You’ve already defined what equity in education means to you, but in a world where we have all of these competing definitions, why do you think it matters that we actually have a common definition, whether within a foundation or within a sector?

Edgar Villanueva:

Language is a start but we have to deconstruct and dig into what we mean by equity and what we mean by education for all. We often say, “we believe all kids should have access to a high-quality education.” But who doesn’t believe that all kids should have a high-quality education? If you really want to dig deep into equity, it’s important to be more explicit.

Equity is a major buzzword right now in the field, but many are still figuring out how to operationalize it. Equity has been on the marquee for some big conferences. But I think that equity and conversations about race, gender, homophobia, all of those things have to be really explicit. Otherwise it just kind of gets lost in foundation-talk. I think that boys and girls of color in education are in many ways, the canary in the coalmine.  Denying educational opportunities for kids of color demonstrates the inequities that exist in our system that ultimately will end up hurting all kids. If we’re not really investing in the places where the deepest hurt is, the result is, all kids are not going to be lifted up.

Matt Morton:

There’s a lot of stuff there that you said, and all resonates with me but a couple specifically that I want to call out. One is Dr. john a. powell and this Targeted Universalism approach. When we talked about “all kids,” it becomes a majority strategy, and that majority strategy continues to leave out those kids that have already been marginalized and left out. So really designing a targeted strategy around the students in education who have been historically underserved and marginalized becomes essential. One of the ways we’ve done that at Meyer within Equitable Education is that we’ve specifically called out our priority populations because, well frankly, equity is our title, and data can very accurately tell us those students who have experienced the opportunity gap.

So we’ve identified underserved communities: students of color, students living in poverty, students who are english language learners, those with disabilities and those who are first-generation college going; because we see compounding issues across all of those different categories, when you see students of color, you oftentimes also see students in poverty. When you look at your immigrant and refugee community, who are often of color, also in poverty, also learning English as a second language, and you tend to have compounding barriers to a positive, meaningful education.

So I really appreciate your commentary. For me, someone who is new in philanthropy still, it feels good that I have someone like you who, with your background in education and healthcare, is echoing the things that we’ve been focusing on over this last year while building our portfolio.

The other thing too I should mention, I think I shared this with you: We were invited to join an education funders group. I’m interested engaging with that group and, selfishly, I want to see more resources from those national funders find their way to Oregon. But certainly, if, in our little way we can start to drive the conversation around how we invest philanthropic dollars in public education, particularly in public education for our priority populations, I think that would be a huge win.

Edgar Villanueva:

Yes it would! And I would add two things.

In philanthropy data is very important. In 2006, Schott published our very first 50-State Report on Public Education and Black Males. It’s also known as the “Black Boys Report,” which has state-by-state analysis of academic achievement through a race and gender lens.  

We consider the Black Boys Report to be a significant contribution to supporting a new conversation in the country about disparities for black boys. Schott was instrumental in starting the conversation within philanthropy that then snowballed to become the Executives’ Alliance that focuses on boys and men of color within philanthropy, which then influenced the launch of My Brother’s Keeper. We feel very proud that a relatively small foundation was successful in leveraging increased investment in the field as a result of compelling data and Schott’s philanthropic advocacy.

Data is critical in driving resource allocation decisions. I was just talking yesterday with someone who works at a health foundation that has a strong focus on equity. She ran a report of their investment data to have a better analysis of who they were funding. She wanted to understand how many of their grantees were led by people of color with the assumption that if grantee organizations are led by people of color and are working in communities of color, the foundation was going to get to some greater parity in its investments. She found that the majority of the foundation’s funding was going to white-led institutional organizations. When she presented that data to her colleagues—she being one of the only persons of color working in this organization—she was personally attacked. She was called “righteous” and then there was justification made to not fund groups (led by people of color) because, “they don’t have the capacity” or “there are plenty of white-led groups that do really good work.” So there are still barriers, even with clear data. If we’re not cautious and very intentional, I think we can justify our way out of not doing the right thing even when we’re presented with the truth.

I appreciate the shared vision for equity that exists between Schott and Meyer. I first heard about the work that you were doing when I lived in Seattle. You have been very explicit about what you’re trying to do, and intentional, and a lot of that has been championed by the leadership of the foundation, which I think is very, very important. More often than not, I see a program officer, a person of color, or someone else within an organization who really “gets it.” They are trying to push things forward in the right direction, and it’s like moving a boulder up the hill when you don’t have the backing of the board and the leadership. I know that your CEO has been very open and honest about what needed to happen at the foundation and was very intentional about recruitment and hiring and the direction of the foundation. Your transparency is so helpful for others to see and understand. It’s okay if you don’t know, or you don’t have all the answers. We all can learn and do better. I appreciate that about you all.

Matt Morton:

Thank you for saying that, it really means a lot, and I would agree, it’s one of the reasons why Meyer attracted me away from the community work that I was doing.

So one of the first questions I asked you was about “leaning in” or “sitting in” it, you know, being uncomfortable. You mentioned the organizations that have done that tend to have a different way of grantmaking, and that grantmaking is focused on actually responding in a way that is reflective of what the communities are seeking versus what the philanthropic organization thinks the communities want. So there was an article recently about how the education sector should reach out to communities to better engage students and their families.

Within Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio, we really put a lot of stock in the importance of community self-determination, recognizing community expertise and agency to determine the most effective strategies to increase student achievement. How we define it within community is that the community are experts of their own experience. How do you see that approach? Or, have you seen that approach positively impact outcomes in your work with historically underserved communities? And the reason why I’m asking, I should say, because I think this will, as we invest more in this way, within the Equitable Education portfolio, for example, the more scrutiny will be placed on it if we don’t see immediate return on investment. So I’m looking to you, is this a nice thing to say, or is this something we can actually demonstrate? This self-determination works, community-driven solutions work, does it work better than the “white savior” mentality that philanthropy often has: go in, drop the solution, then leave.

Edgar Villanueva:

It begins with our values. Are we seeking to really understand equity and to do the hard, sometime uncomfortable work of changing our internal systems and practices to reflect our understanding? At Schott, we truly believe that change is best achieved when the community’s impacted by injustices are significantly engaged as the leaders. Communities must lead with solutions. The majority of our investments support community-based movement-building organizations. We support activism by students, parents, and teachers who are putting external demands on school districts, on states, and at the federal level to bring about systemic and policy change to advance an equal opportunity to learn for all students.

In terms of having a return on investment, if you believe and lead with that value— that it’s critical that student voice, parent voice be at the table—there has to be resources provided to get them there. In most cases they’re not automatically invited in. Schott's funding has supported creating space for student voice and parent voice to be heard.

For example, in Mississippi, Schott supports an organization called Southern Echo. Southern Echo was successful in creating parent councils around the state. Now significant decisions that are being made by the districts are mandated to engage parents from these councils in decisions that impact education. And that’s a good thing. Some parents may not be engaged because they don’t feel empowered or invited to the table. If you create and support these mechanisms for engagement, for them to not just be at the table but for their voice and their solutions to be meaningful contributions to the decisions that are being made, you see positive outcomes.

Of course, we measure success too. Schott Foundation is a public foundation, which means that we raise money and rely on donors to support our programs. Articulating outcomes is important. Consider this about movement-building. If a movement can be built, then you can measure how it’s growing, how it’s being built, if it’s getting larger. Is the constituent base growing? Are the number of people engaged in public education growing? And what are the systemic and policies wins that came about from the groups that we’re supporting? How many people were impacted by those wins? At Schott, we track these types of indicators. We know that there is higher return on investment on grants made for advocacy versus programs.

Where you have to exercise some caution, is that ROI is not always about a policy win. We don’t win all the time and when we do, implementation is a whole different issue. There are other measures of success that must be considered. In some ways, I’m grappling with this, as are many grantees who are required to report on their advocacy efforts. I am looking at policy and system wins, and I am looking at the impact of the reach and the capacity of our grantees. Again, evaluation of this work comes back to our values set. I don’t believe in my years in this work that we would have seen so much progressive policy change without the demand for it from communities. So investing in that community demand and power is imperative, even if it’s hard to measure.

Matt Morton:

Yeah. You know, I really, appreciate that, in fact, let me just take a minute to tell you what we’ve kind of experienced here. So we have three goals within Equitable Education; the first one is building a unified movement around equitable education. The second is around systems and policy change, because we recognize that there are organizations better equipped to be engaged in community, and we recognize organizations are better equipped in that direct policy and systems change work. And then the third goal is around increasing student achievement for priority populations. So we recently had 163 eligible applications that came in. A good 70 percent of those landed in goal three and 30 percent landed in the first two goals. With the first goal, movement building, I think we got maybe a total of 12 applications. And what that really told me was that the system, the two plus decades of disinvestment in public education in Oregon, has driven all of our community-based organizations, our service providers, nonprofit and otherwise, into this space of backfilling public education.

So now we’re very early in the process of reviewing proposals and making recommendations for consideration, but I’m already thinking we have a lot of work to do to prepare organizations to have authentic relationships with communities where they can start to do the organizing, engagement and movement building before they’re even ready to accept resources for those purposes.

Edgar Villanueva:

I’ve been a part of funding the progressive movement for some time, mostly supporting multi-issue work. When I was at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, we didn’t have a lot of grantees with an education focus. Most of the groups that were doing educational organizing were multi-issue, so it was a part of their platform. They might have been organizing around minimum wage, economic justice, and education. There are a handful of national education-focused coalitions, and a lot of organizing is done by labor. The movement is growing.

At Schott, I have a pretty good sense of the national landscape. I know the national networks who are doing education justice work and again, it’s a pretty small universe compared with the worker’s rights movement, for example. There’s also a dynamic of unions that comes into play. I do believe that post-election, education has absolutely been elevated as an issue of concern to the public. People who have not been paying attention to education or have focused on other issues are now prioritizing the fight for public education. For example, People’s Action is one of the largest base-building organizations in the country. They are very powerful with a massive membership base that covers most of the country. They were a grantee of mine when I was at Marguerite Casey Foundation. At that time, they were primarily focused on economic justice and immigration. They are now talking about public education too. The past several e-mails I’ve received from them have been about the education budget, so I think there is an awakening in the broader progressive movement about what’s happening in education and the need to organize around it. If you truly believe that public education is the last mainstay of our democracy and how our democracy is threatened by privatization, then you have a lot of cause to be alarmed right now.

Matt Morton:

Thank you. So there’s one more question; I mentioned our Equitable Education portfolio, this is our first annual funding opportunity. We received 163 eligible applications requesting about $22 million. Over the next three years, we have $7.8 million that we can commit. Out the door this year: $5.2 million. I just wanted to know, do you have any advice for us as we prioritize our investments for impact?

Edgar Villanueva:

Yes. A couple things to think about: being new at Meyer and this portfolio being pretty fresh, having an open call may be helpful because you get a sense of the landscape. Over time, however, I would think about a way to narrow down the number of applications I was reviewing, perhaps by invitation only, or to have very specific types of RFPs or ROIs. This is a growing trend. There are ways to be very transparent about the process, and I’ve found that grantees appreciate not applying if they’re not really a fit.

Put a priority on funding groups that are working with communities of color. My first “yes” pile would automatically be groups that are working with communities of color, that are led by people of color. But you can’t necessarily apply the same criteria across the board . This is where a lot of these groups lose out, because if you have blanket selection criteria, such as budget size, then you may automatically be cutting out grassroots groups led by people of color.

It’s okay to give those proposals special treatment. That is equity - it’s special treatment and special consideration. One of the first steps I’d make is to try to find a way to say “yes” even if those applications are missing a budget attachments, or you have to do some follow-up to get more information. That is the work that is required to make sure those groups have access to resources. They may not have a development director who’s going to submit a well-written perfect application. We must be willing to do the work to support the success of their proposals.

Matt Morton:

Thank you. This is precisely the message I’ve delivered to my team as we’ve been reviewing these. We want to create a fair system but with the recognition that, in fact, equity compels us to look at things in a way that may not be, to address things in a way that may not be, to respond to things in a way that may not be what we expect or what we’ve been doing in the past.

You touched on something else, where we sort of “white-splain” the reasons why organizations aren’t sophisticated and the reasons why we don’t fund them because they don’t fit into this nice, pretty package that we expect to see. I think that's been one of the bigger challenges that we have faced organizationally, and as a sector, as equity has been attempted. To operationalize equity often means that, all of a sudden, it just doesn’t look the same. It’s hard, and it’s messy, and it takes more time and with the concern of the risk involved. And philanthropy isn’t known for its risk taking generally.

Edgar Villanueva:

Right. In philanthropy, we’ve learned to find ways to say “no.” On one hand, a lot of foundations aren’t clear what they want to say “yes” to, so it’s just easier to say “no” to a lot of things.

Matt Morton:


Edgar Villanueva:

And then be really clear about what you want to say “yes” to and then that would guide you into being more transparent about it in the future.

It’s easy to create sweeping criteria to cut things out because of the large number of proposals to read. And you must exercise the understanding that what is reflected in this proposal is not necessarily reality. Anyone can hire an amazing grant writer to write a proposal. Many times, I’ve seen beautifully written proposals that do not reflect the real impact. You have to take the proposal with a grain of salt.

Proposals are just another step in the approval process. For me, other parts include the community knowledge that you have, and that’s great because you’re a place-based funder, so you know what’s going on and where some impact could be, just from the context of things. You might get some other information from a site visit. All of these information sources should be put into the soup that leads to finding a way to “yes” and “no” and not putting too much weight on a piece of paper, that we don’t know who wrote, or if someone is just so busy doing the work that they just don’t have the right tools and abilities to articulate it in a proposal.

Schott funds almost all small, grassroots organizations and when I tell you that I’ve had to sit on the phone and help type a proposal for people because they’re driving across the rural South or wherever and they don’t have time, it’s true. By any means necessary to support the right work. We don’t want our complicated process to prevent us from funding amazing work on the ground.

Matt Morton:

Exactly. Thank you, Edgar!

Photo caption: Photographed on the left is Matt Morton, Equitable Education Portfolio Director at Meyer Memorial Trust, on the right is Edgar Villanueva the Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at Schott Foundation
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