Biddix offers insight into equity work

New director in D86 reflects on efforts during first year of job and his goals for the future

Say the words “equity and inclusion,” and people might come up with a number of different definitions.

“I am no stranger to the abundance of narratives about what these words mean — and what they might mean in our schools or in a professional or personal aspect as well,” said Chris Biddix, director of equity and inclusion in Hinsdale High School District 86. “I think naming some of those narratives from the start, knowing them, is really important.”

Some narratives might suggest that it’s naive and optimistic to try to address inequities in education or that teachers are doing a great job already or that equity and inclusion work is tied to a particular political ideology.

Instead, Biddix said a model aligned to the district’s strategic vision and equity statement can help educators prioritize where growth and improvement is needed for student learning.

“The narrative we can all get on board with is that we are here for our students to learn and have exceptional academic outcomes and pathways and post-secondary success,” he said.

That work begins by looking at demographic buckets (related to a variety of factors beyond race), Biddix said, along with student learning as measured by grade point averages, SAT scores and enrollment in AP and honors classes. Those three data points are the top three considered by college admission representatives.

“College completion is a theory of change in our country because it levels the playing field,” Biddix said. “It’s a theory of change in our country because one of the highest predictors of generational wealth is home ownership. And one of the highest predictors of home ownership is a college degree.”

By adjusting the tools they use, learning new tools and adopting new ways of looking at their classroom, teachers can do more to reach students in all buckets, Biddix said. For example, teachers can help students by changing the types of questions they ask. Instead of saying, “Do you have any questions?” after presenting information, teachers can ask things like, “What about what we just did would other students find challenging?” or “How would you reteach this to student who were not in our class this week?”

Improving student learning also means making sure students feel comfortable in the school environment.

“We know that student learning improvement can’t happen absent of student belonging, absent of student safety, absent of students being explicitly taught habits of academics, habits of engaging in the learning environment. That comes a lot with our educator development,” Biddix said.

His role as director of equity and inclusion involves working in a support role with other administrators, counselors, deans, the district’s culture and equity leadership team and equity action teams at both campuses.

“There are a lot of models out there for how to do this,” he said. “We have to create the model that works for us.”

He said the goal is not to add one more thing for teachers to have to do or for students to have to learn, but to put everyone in a position to do their best. He shared a slide that showed three individuals standing in front of a solid fence.

Two were too short to see over it. They could be given boxes to stand on — or the solid fence could be replaced by a chain link fence that everyone can see through.

“The reason I like this one best is the fence is still there,” he said. “We’re still a school. We have boundaries.”

How students experience school ultimately affects their ability to learn content and skills, he said.

“We’re a great school, but if we look really closely at our student learning areas of improvement, we do see a trend in certain buckets,” Biddix said. “If we can address those buckets, we can be the best school.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean