The Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education has long adopted progressive, student-centered educational approaches.
Now the private K-8 school is addressing racial inequality with the creation of a new position: the Coordinator of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice.
The senior-level role will work with students, faculty, staff, and parents and caregivers in a variety of contexts. These areas include professional development, student admissions, curriculum development, classroom instruction, and more.
"Issues of equity, inclusion, and justice are at the core of who and what Falk has always aspired to be, both as a school and community,” says Falk School Director Jeff Suzik. “But now more than ever, in the complex and deeply troubling moment we are living through, our students deserve learning experiences that help them to be upstanders instead of bystanders, anti-racists instead of non-racists; in essence, they must learn to be committed partners in ensuring that the change we wish for in the world becomes reality.
The inaugural person to hold the position, Samantha Utley, will begin on August 3. A native of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, she is the former dean of students at the Duquesne City School District, where she managed student affairs. Prior to that role, she worked at Duquesne schools as a teacher instructional coach for science, STEM, and technology.
At the Falk School, Utley intends to apply the values of equity and restorative justice that shaped her experiences at Duquesne schools. She expects to foster an environment that recognizes and celebrates the innate differences in people and promotes the development of positive social identities.
“The primary years are the foundation for students,” says Utley. “Reading, writing, math—if you don’t have those skills down in the first few years, you will struggle down the road. The same could be thought of with equity and inclusion. If we don’t instill that knowledge in our children, then as adults they will have deficit thinking and bias as adults.”
Jill Sarada, assistant director of elementary grades learning at the Falk School, agrees that the early years are critical for students.
“The school environment is the first time that students are at a place with others and where they begin to understand what it means to be at a place of community. It is citizenship in real life for kids. The new position is a way to help them understand how to be a citizen through their own small world, and we hope that will continue with them into the adult world and in their adult communities,” says Sarada.
The new Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Coordinator position builds on the groundwork of several other initiatives at the Falk school, according to Suzik. For the past several years, the school has benefited from an Educator-in-Residence for Equity and Justice and from the advocacy of the Falk Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Working Group, which is made up of faculty, staff, parents, and caregivers.
Deborah Desjardins, co-chair of the school’s working group, is looking forward to the new position expanding the scale and scope of the work done by her group.
“It is important to have a position dedicated to leading and facilitating equity and justice efforts that benefit students, faculty, staff, and families at Falk. We have many well-meaning parents and teachers who want to do more in this space but who do not always know exactly how. Now we will be able to look to Samantha for guidance,” says Desjardins.
The new position will also be noteworthy for its approach of engaging with the adults in the students’ lives, said Suzik.
“This holds true for our faculty, staff, and our families/caregivers, for it is we, the adults in their lives, who must serve as partners and guides in their learning and growth. We must approach this work with humility and with eyes wide open, and for us to make appreciable progress, we too need guides and teachers,” says Suzik.
Based on her experiences as a teacher and an instructional leader, Utley is ready to take on that challenge.
“Over the past few years, education has worked to build more equitable and systematic frameworks for students. This is something I am deeply invested in,” she says.
Every year, students earning their teacher certification at the Pitt School of Education work as student teaching interns at the Falk School.
Learn more about the Falk School
Learn more about the mission-vision of the Pitt School of Education