Iowa City and UI partnership looks to grow with new Equity Implemented Project

The Equity Implemented Project, between the UI and the community, was awarded a new grant.


Joseph Cress

Sarah Bruch speaks during an Iowa City Human Rights Commission event in the Iowa City Public Library on Thursday, October 13, 2016. The event was broken up into two sections, the first focusing on how to engage individuals, and the second on survey result findings from the Iowa City school district.

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

A partnership between the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Community School District will bridge the gap between research and practice to combat inequity in the district.

The Equity Implemented Project, a partnership aiming to bridge the gap between research and practice and make waves in local schools, was recently awarded a two-year federal grant for nearly $400,000.

UI sociology Assistant Professor Sarah Bruch, the principal investigator in the project, said the biggest thing the grant will be able to fund is hiring a full-time research staff for the district.

The project model gained national attention, Bruch said, and the participants were asked to expand to include the Waterloo Community School District as well.

“I think that it’s important for people in our community to know that they can be a part of this work,” Bruch said.

For a lot of people, racial inequity can be a difficult entrenched problem to tackle, and the partnership model is a mean to that end, she said. It builds on community strength.

Tessa Heeren, the program manager at the partnership, said it began as a result of the school district and the UI Public Policy Center recognizing overlapping interests and improving educational equity and student experiences. The partnership is mutually beneficial to the university and district with innovation in both policy research and school administration.

Bruch also stressed the importance of UI student interns in making the project work, noting that it can be a steppingstone to future jobs in the policy field.

UI graduate student Rachel Maller, who interns with the partnership, has done so since she was an undergraduate. She worked with people such as Bruch and former City Councilor and School District Director of Equity and Engagement Kingsley Botchway, writing research reports and reviewing policy decisions.

“I loved being able to conduct applied research in a field I’m passionate about: education inequality,” Maller said.

The partnership benefits from community interest, she said. She encouraged people interested in inequity in the school system to attend school board meetings as a way for the general public to get involved.

I think that it’s important for people in our community to know that they can be a part of this work,

— Sarah Bruch

“It’s helpful when the public shows support for these initiatives,” Maller said. “It shows the district that the public is behind it.”

One area of research Maller said she is most excited about is replacing to punitive discipline in the school system with “restorative justice.” Punitive discipline means consequences, as expulsion and suspension; restorative justice would entail counseling and meeting circles.

“The partnership has created a platform to identify differing needs for students and implement strategies to support all students equitably while being conscious of the impacts of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, language, religious identity, nationality, or family’s economic circumstances on students’ experiences in school,” Heeren said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

One of the newer additions to school policymaking as a result of the partnership is implicit-bias training for district teachers.

But with the empty space created by Botchway’s move from Iowa City, a key component of the partnership’s future is unknown.

“I think the biggest factor in the continuation and success of the partnership will be whether the district will find another champion for equity and leadship in the partnership to fill Kingsley’s role,” Heeren said.