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Winford Adams: Breaking down board room barriers

  • Winford Adams

Winford Adams is preparing to be sworn into office on the Spring Independent School District Board of Trustees. After his time in the classroom, he is ready to change the policies that affected his students — and his children. 

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?  

In the spring of 2002, as I was nearing the end of my time at Berkeley, I was struggling with my path forward after graduation. I had several attractive options, but none of them was really calling to me. One day, I was walking around the career fair and came across the Teach for America table. They gave me some literature and invited me to a presentation that evening.  

That night, a young woman spoke passionately her work as a teacher, her students, and the achievement gap. I could really identify with her description of her students, and the movement to provide excellent educational opportunities for all children, regardless of zip code. Her testimony made me think of some of my own teachers, and how they had prepared me to be successful at Berkeley. From that point forward, I put just a bit more effort into the teaching option.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?  

In December, I will be sworn in as the newest trustee on the Spring Independent School District Board of Trustees. Spring ISD serves approximately 37,000 students, about 20 miles north of Houston, Texas. I will be the first person in my family to hold elected office.

I received a tremendous amount of support and guidance from LEE. It was conversations with and support from my regional director, Marcus Ceniceros, along with participation in LEE programs like the Policy Leadership Academy, the National Organizing Workshop, and Ready to Run that pushed me past my reluctance to seek a seat on the Board.

For me, this is the real value-add of LEE. LEE programs and staff create a sounding board and safe place for me to explore and confront my own self-doubts about my worthiness for elected office; and my ability to be an impactful and effective elected leader. LEE is giving me the tools to more effectively focus my efforts on closing the opportunity/achievement gap and addressing issues of equity and social justice in my community.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

LEE was instrumental in assisting me with the process of seeking a seat on the Board of Trustees. As Trustee-elect, I am in the process of introducing myself to as many stakeholders as possible and doing a deep dive into the issues and challenges facing the district and community. I view listening to stakeholders, reviewing data, and engaging in constant inquiry as an on-going obligation to the people I serve.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

I think ending educational inequity in our country starts with ending the current trend towards de facto segregation in our communities and schools. The demographics of many public school systems across this nation are approaching 90% percent black and brown students. White families are increasingly opting for private, parochial or home-schooling. And in many locations where white students are enrolled in public schools, they are geographically clustered in schools or feeder patterns with significantly more resources.

I believe the paucity of white students in our public schools is the reason legislators seem to be so comfortable cutting education funding and proposing “choice” legislation that funnels public tax dollars to private and parochial schools. To confront and reverse this trend, we must continue to highlight and celebrate the inherent value of diversity in our schools and communities. I emphasize this is just the start of ending educational inequity. The finish will require prolonged, multi-pronged, and collaborative efforts across racial, ideological, political, and socio-economic lines.

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

My role in achieving this vision is to be one of a growing number of voices in boardrooms and legislative chambers that demands equity and offers policy solutions to the challenges that arise as we strive to achieve it. I hope having a seat on Spring ISD’s Board of Trustees amplifies my voice, and allows me to influence policy in a way that intentionally addresses issues of achievement, equity, and social justice.  

My theory of change relies heavily on the idea that my perspective — the perspective of a black, first-generation college graduate, and elected official — has been under-represented in the rooms where policy decisions are made. More importantly, that perspective is absent when the negative, unintended consequences of policy decisions are manifested. I will continue to engage with LEE, and fellowship with LEE members to learn how best to achieve my vision.

Winford Adams was a 2003 Teach for America corps member in South Louisiana.