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Two metro educators awarded for equitable approach to learning

Educators from Richfield Public Schools and charter school, Exploration High School, won 2022 Excellence in Equity Awards.

MINNEAPOLIS — Out of more than 165 nominations nationwide, 21 educators were selected to receive 2022 Excellence in Equity Awards from the American Consortium for Equity in Education. Two of those winners are from the Twin Cities area.

Richfield Public Schools assistant superintendent Dr. Latanya Daniels is one of four educators nationwide to win in the "Champion of Equity District Leadership" category. Meanwhile, Dave Heighington is one of three educators judges selected for the "Champion of Equity – School Leadership" category. Heighington is director and founder of Exploration High School, a new public charter school in northeast Minneapolis.

The award recipients met Tuesday at Exploration to discuss their approach to education with KARE 11.

"We know that Minnesota has one of the worst outcomes for our students of color and so we really have to rethink, what are we doing," Heighington said. "Exploration High School, we learn by doing. So, not memorizing facts and test, test, test. Right now, they're building Tiny Home and doing 3D printing and doing their own cosmetics start-up and writing their own novels. So we really lean into … amplifying our students and putting them at the center."

Dr. Daniels is fighting the same fight in her district. 

"I love what Dave said about keeping students at the center," she said. "Being student-centered means we need to hear what their own experiences are, in order to improve the programming … In Richfield, we have Safe and Supportive Schools student committee in which we have students at the high school who give voice around policy … all the way from the facilities and the food that they ate, to ultimately the classes that they took."

But what is equity?

"Equity is access, support and success," Dr. Daniels said.

"Equity for Exploration High is everybody has a say in what we do," Heighington added.

For junior Light Wood, equity means getting the opportunity to explore.

"Last year, we had our first dance, which was the Halloween Dance and I was apart of planning it and I got a lot of support from the teachers and the students," they said. "Coming back this year … we planned another successful Halloween Dance … It really implements leadership. It helps show me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it."

Dr. Daniels reports Richfield Public Schools has a graduation rate of almost 91%. At Exploration High School, it's too soon to talk about graduation rates because it's a new school. The first 12th grade class will begin this fall 2023.

When it comes to enrollment, Heighington says 96% of students came back this school year after opening the previous year, in fall 2021. He says even during last week's winter storm, three-quarters of the students were in attendance.

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