The Equity Advisory Task Force at Brainerd Public Schools wants the community’s input on its work and plans to host public input sessions to do so.

Erin Karlgaard, a third grade teacher at Lowell Elementary School and coordinator of the task force, updated the Brainerd School Board Monday, Nov. 8, on the work the group has done since forming in fall 2020.

“While the district and the school board saw a need for equity work through its data and for community conversations about students’ experiences, there was not a clear vision of what that should look like,” she said. “There is no guidebook for guaranteed success for setting up how to go about doing the work of making sure everyone feels safe, supported and for all students to be able to find success within our community. It just doesn’t exist. We needed to spend significant time talking through our history and, at times, hurt that has come from decisions and experiences, and the task force spent a good time dealing with creating definitions for our work.”

The task force — which includes district staff, administrators, board members and community members — looked at data specific to the school district to come up with a framework for equity work. That framework includes eight different areas of work:

  • Student support services,

  • Curriculum and assessment,

  • Hiring/retention,

  • Behavior/interventions,

  • District policies and procedures,

  • Student experiences and activities,

  • Student safety and engagement, and

  • Community engagement.

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“We look at each of these umbrellas one at a time, and we’ll look at our district data to see what works, and we’ll be looking for areas where barriers exist for our students,” Karlgaard said. “For example, when we look at student experiences and activities, we have a wealth of extracurricular opportunities available to students outside of the school day that statistically contribute to success socially and academically. But if students are not able to get a ride home after those activities end, they’re not able to access those opportunities. This is just a very small example of how we need to dig into each of those areas and look at what we do and how that works impacts all of our students, either positively or negatively.”

"Equity, of course, being the circumstances and the needs of an individual, and equality is just making sure everybody across the board has the same resources."

— ,” - Charles Black Lance.

The framework is a living document and will be used as a starting point for the district’s work and modified as needed.

Karlgaard emphasized the task force is not a decision-making body. The group’s role is to look at data, research equity in each piece of the framework and provide assistance, suggested guidelines or questions to give to district leaders and decision-makers.

“In this way, the equity team will eventually work itself out of a job because the intention is that each facet and department in our district will own the work for themselves,” she said. “As of now, the plan is that each of these umbrellas may take two months of our work time, but we need to allocate the time necessary to make sure our work is thorough and meaningful.”

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District staff will learn about the framework during an in-service day Nov. 29 and undergo training on implicit bias and deficit thinking. Karlgaard and other members of the equity task force will lead the training so work can focus on the perspective of Brainerd Public Schools.

To fulfill the community engagement piece of the framework, the task force will host various community dialogue sessions. The first event is set for 6-7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and will focus on equity framework and implicit bias — the same content as the staff in-service. More sessions will follow in January, March and May, with specific dates to be announced later.

“I think it’s really important that information we share at our in-service is also available to the public, and I will bring the same information that we share the day of the in-service, but it’s also a dialogue, and so I want to leave space and honor the fact that our community has to be part of this work as well,” Karlgaard said. “That’s why we felt it was important to have them as an umbrella in this equity framework.”

A survey about student experience was set to go out to all district families this week, and those responses will be discussed at the in-service day as well.

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Board Chair Ruth Nelson said she loves the detailed plan and especially appreciates the community engagement piece.

Board member Charles Black Lance — who also sits on the equity committee — said he looks forward to the community dialogue, especially over matters like equity and equality, which he said many people might not have a clear understanding of right now.

“Equity, of course, being the circumstances and the needs of an individual, and equality is just making sure everybody across the board has the same resources,” Black Lance said, noting there seems to be some confusion, which is OK and can hopefully be remedied by meaningful dialogue.

At the end of her presentation, Karlgaard reminded those listening that the whole point of all the equity work is for the benefit of the students and making sure they feel loved, heard and understood.

“As a teacher, I got into every school year telling my kids the first day of school that I love them like they’re my own kids. And my two kids are different, and so I think that this work, I look at it as we are loving every student in this district as if they are our own. And so what does that mean?” she said. “We need to take care of that and look at our data, and we look at some experiences in our district, not elsewhere. And then we say, ‘What are the needs in our district, and how can we better go about meeting those needs for our students?’”

For more information on the district’s equity work and the task force, visit

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at