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Tracy Gallegos on Overcoming Biased and Systemic Problems in Education – Kooler Lifestyle Podcast Episode 12

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00:00:00 Tracy Gallegos
One of the biggest reasons I think, that the needs have changed so much has to do with technology. And with the way that our young people. Communicate with each other. And the way that our young people. The things they're watching and they're exposed to from early on. And leading into adolescence and you know, there's it's just presented a whole different. Set of of needs that we we weren't dealing with even even five or ten years ago. And so, you know, there's a lot of like really positive things that come with the technology. And so I'm not gonna, I'm not knocking the investment of technology at all. I think that it's amazing. However, I do think that the adults and especially. Um, you know. Educators and and parents really are a little behind the curve when it comes to some of the unintended consequences to some of the social media that's out there. And just the messages that our students are getting.
00:01:11 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle podcast. I'm your host, Matt Kielhorn, and I'm excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work, and serve through my Business School or garage doors. We're going to bring you highlights on characters in our communities. Why? Because Community matters, and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support. Community fabric that our relationships make up, and collectively we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth, and our health. Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle Podcast. I'm your host, Matt Kuehlhorn. And today we have Tracy Gallegos, who's the director of the equity and inclusion for the D51 School district. Tracy, how you doing today?
00:02:04 Tracy Gallegos
I am great. How are you doing, Matt?
00:02:06 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I'm doing really good. I do have to just give a shout out to the the painting you have in the background. I think it's so cool and it's it's loud and proud.
00:02:16 Tracy Gallegos
Thank you.
00:02:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
It's a it's mentioned.
00:02:18 Tracy Gallegos
That artist, his name is Ben Boom. He's a jeweler and A and an artist, and he does a lot of really cool work with youth as well. So we'll shout out to Ben Boom.
00:02:29 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Ben Boom, he was on one of the videos. So my wife reached out to you and and kind of connected this conversation and in one of the videos just doing a little bit of my own homework, I believe Ben Boom was on there with that be.
00:02:45 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah. Yep. So he does. He does inner very cool interviews with interesting people. And so he's, he reminds me a little bit of yourself in that respect. And you know, he's a, he's an interesting guy. He's just a. Yeah, a good person to know so.
00:03:02 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, Ray Dodd. I'll put him on my list and reach out. But for today, Tracy, I'd love to start. Where did you grow up?
00:03:10 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah. So I'm from delta Co. Born and raised in Delta and. You know, I I grew up there. And then I ended up leaving and going to college. Um and Greeley. And because it was the best education college I knew of and I was able to get into. And then I worked in the metro area for a while, and then I moved back to Delta when I started my family. And I've I've lived there ever since. And so I'm I'm a delta day.
00:03:45 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Right on. I love it in. You're in education and have a lot of passion around youth. Where is that coming from? Did that come?
00:03:56 Tracy Gallegos
From your own.
00:03:58 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Childhood is that.
00:04:00 Tracy Gallegos
00:04:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
So that in for.
00:04:01 Tracy Gallegos
Us, you know, I I would've been inspired to become an educator from early on and maybe it was out of spite a little bit honestly because where I grew up, you know, I grew up with a a group of of young, young people that looked a lot like me and talked a lot like me and we did not have the both the best experience during adolescence and into into high school. Probably. Yeah, you know, and I I just feel like it was a combination of. Being misunderstood and. Just that just being part of a the lived experience that we grew up, you know, we we we were a crew of people who knew each other from early on. And our parents hung out and so we got to know each other like that. And then we got together and formed a really tight group and you know, we had a lot of. Lack of opportunity. A lot of misunderstanding about. You know, maybe how to act the right way. And we also were, we didn't get a lot of encouragement from the educators and from the systems that were in place at the time and the 90s and that kind of put a chip on my shoulder. And when I got to college, I decided that I really wanted to figure out a way to support youth like me and my friends. And I felt like the best way to do that was to get an education and become a teacher. So.
00:05:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, yeah. I love it. So for your work with equity and inclusion, what is your, what is your job entail? What's kind of a day-to-day?
00:05:47 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah, so it's a it's a cool job, so I am lucky enough to work. You know, I kind of have three kind of areas I focus in on. One is leadership and administration and I work with the leaders of the school district to help figure out ways that we can adjust our system so that we can start meeting our our students needs. And I'm talking about our students who are students furthest from opportunity. You know, unfortunately we have very predictable data. And it's been, it's been predictable for for decades. But you can look and see, if you look at achievement, for example, you can see predictably some of our students and how they're doing. And you can see. You know, most of our students are doing OK. And then there's a a sizable group of students who are not doing OK, and they haven't been doing OK for a long time. And so I get to work with the leadership to help. Asked him tough questions. And really think about our systems and think about some of what we're doing and how we're doing it. And then I get to really help them decide how to do things differently. And so it's really fun work, you know, we look at making instructional decisions. We look at ways that we support our teachers and our principals and things that we can do differently to to make sure that we're we're meeting needs of kids. I also get to um, really? Work closely with community and figure out ways to make sure that our community leaders and our experts who exist especially experts for the population of students we're trying, that I'm I'm in charge of supporting, exist outside of the walls of our buildings and make sure they get into into our system and help us kind of partner with us to to find solutions for our kids.
00:07:58 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love it. What's your definition for the population that you that you work with?
00:08:03 Tracy Gallegos
Closely, OI would say they are students furthest from opportunity. You know, and it's a it's a variety of kids. You know, we look specifically at our students of color. Our students of color just are they are not performing at the same rate as their, as their as the white students. We also looked at students from marginalized. Populations. So our LGBTQ plus students, our students who are migratory. Our students who are experiencing homelessness. Very good, you know, and our students who. Are also in poverty.
00:08:46 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. Yeah, real, real life there. Real life issues. Amazing and. You mentioned. Focusing in on on systems and. Some of the discrimination, if you will, is more systemic. Right, like not necessarily. And individuals bias and and there's certainly that. But there's a lot of systems that are in place, and while they may have came from great intentions, like maybe they're outdated or? It is old school, right? So um. I get how that in and of itself is is incredibly important and that would present its own challenges in an institution.
00:09:38 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah, absolutely so. You know. Traditional education. Has a lot of. Has a lot of systems and structures that were never designed to meet the needs of today's youth. And especially the diverse needs of today's diverse youth. And so, you know, there's a lot of things that we do as educators and we do it because that's how they've always been done. Sometimes we do it cause that's how we were taught we should do it. Right. And sometimes there's some power structures where we do it because we have to do it, because that's what our, that's what the the people that are in charge of our systems tell us we have to do. And so there's always some, you know, it's interesting lab landscape to navigate, especially when your goal is transformational. And and doing things differently. But I'll tell you and just in the past, you know. Four or five years. The needs of today's youth have changed. They've changed a lot, and they've changed for a variety of reasons. But most of our systems right now in public education. Are trying to catch up to the needs of the students and yeah, it's kind of a scary time. It's a critical time for us to be having these conversations and for us to really be thinking outside of the box to find solutions.
00:11:13 Matthew Kuehlhorn
No joke. Are these shifts in needs? I mean, there's been a big. Shift since COVID.
00:11:22 Tracy Gallegos
Alone, right like.
00:11:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That was not. Insignificant by any means. And you know, for Western Slope, Colorado, we're seeing a shift in population. It seems like there's more people coming in than necessarily moving out. So where where would you start pinpointing um? Some of those need changes. Is it? Is it population? And there's there's just more. People looking for their for services. Is it technology? I mean, I'd imagine it's a combination, but where would you point?
00:12:01 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah, so. You know, I think both of those are very important points. You know, I think that today's youth maybe my. One of the biggest reasons I think, that the needs have changed so much has to do with technology. And with the way that our young people. Communicate with each other. And the way that our young people, the things they're watching and they're exposed to from early on. And and leading into adolescence and you know there's it's just presented a whole different. Set of of needs that we we weren't dealing with even even five or ten years ago. And so, you know, there's a lot of like really positive things that come with the technology. And so I'm not gonna, I'm not knocking the element of technology at all. I think that it's amazing. However, I do think that the adults and especially. Um, you know. Educators and and parents really are a little behind the curve when it comes to some of the unintended consequences to some of the social media that's out there and just the messages that our students are getting. Yeah. Also, I really think that our students are. Dependent upon some of the relationships they they form virtually. And you know that that makes in person relationships different. And. You know, we haven't figured out as a system how to. Have to support that need right now and it's, you know, we're a little behind the curve with when it comes to that. And so I think technology is a huge a huge. Issue that we have to figure out solutions for. I also think that. You know, just the pandemic itself and the trauma. Their. That our students experienced because as a result of the pandemic, you know, I've looked at a lot of data that's a big part of. How I help our district figure out how to, how to prioritize what we do. And you know, it's the data is very telling. But what I've seen is. You know. Students furthest from opportunity. Also experienced a majority of the trauma as a result of the pandemic and a lot of, you know, loss of life. Loved ones put in positions where they were needed to move or, you know, change their family structures and and things like that. They're really, really, it's been tough on their youth.
00:15:07 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I've seen snippets of that research. Um. Do you and D51, do you rely on healthy kids surveys and is that part of the? The research piece that you pull from or is that?
00:15:21 Tracy Gallegos
So we do, we have a couple of tools. We use the healthy Kids Colorado survey is a tool that we participate in, in in that and that is a survey that it's optional. And so, you know, we get some data. We also use a couple of other surveys that really help us get data to help us judge, you know, how kids are feeling. Yeah, and we set goals around that data. And it really does help us. Prioritize effort. Resources, professional learning opportunities. And you know we are, we're making some movement in the right direction since we've been doing that, but we have a long ways to go. Especially in the area of student belonging. And yeah, and making sure that all of our kids feel like they really are part of our community and they belong and and that the adults that are that are teaching them understand them and. Yeah, what we know is that. You know, especially for students who have a hard time learning. They really need to be able to take risks. And and if you are, if you don't trust the adults that are working with you, you're going to be less willing to take that risk. And and and go out there and and and put all your effort into the learning. And So what? Yeah, it's really important that we're able to figure out how to build strong trust with our students and that our students feel like the adults that are working with them really care about them. Well, sure.
00:17:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Ohh man, amazing is your is your role with Indie 51, is that a new role or is that been?
00:17:05 Tracy Gallegos
Around so it's it is new ish. So OK, the position is existed in some form for many years. And it's kind of it go it's gone through different. You know, it's it's gone through different titles and. And you know. So I guess Long story short, it it existed for quite a while, it went away for a while. And now it's back and. And and so this is like gear 2.
00:17:42 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. What a critical, what a critical role to play in people's lives. I've got a loaded question for you, but I just want to touch base on the technology piece again. When I would get in, when I was in my past life into education and and I would get into the schools and I was never. A traditional educator in the sense that I loved experiential education. I loved getting. Youth out into the woods and rock climbing and and learn some life skills in that environment and then be able to bring them into other other realms of life. But with technology, um. You know, I used to give. Presentations to parents and kids and I would just reference the cell phone like a chainsaw. I was like, this is a chainsaw. It's it's super useful. But I always wanted to bring a live chainsaw onto this stage and fire it up. It'd be like, would you hand this off to your kid without instruction? It it's moving so fast. I'm a parent. I've got a daughter in 8th grade and my sons in fifth grade. And you talk about those virtual relationships, like, that's very real. Like there's real emotional bonds and a kid that that occurs between these relationships. And as a parent like, is this is this person even real? Like, and there's so many pieces it's I don't know how we keep up. That's one of the challenges.
00:19:11 Tracy Gallegos
Right. But it's and it's critical you really put. You really hit the nail on the head there, you know? It doesn't seem real to adults, right? Even adults our age. It's like, how can that be real? But it's very real to us, to our, to our youth. And that's something that we have to do as adults is recognize that, you know, they view the world through a different lens. And. You know, we need to catch up. We owe it to our students to catch up. And get with the times. And really figure out. You know how to provide the best guidance. And instruction when it comes to technology because you know there's a lot of positives that come with technology but there are there are a lot of potential dangerous situations when it comes to youth and unstructured and. Technology. And I honestly think especially with, you know, I've spent a lot of time kind of honing in on needs of students and families who speak languages of English. And what I have seen, especially with technology is there is a power dynamic. Especially if they're like let's say example for example, a parent does not speak English. But their children do. Right. And then just the power of not of that child being able to communicate in the dominant language and the amount of responsibility that child takes on? To support the family, to support the parent, and then you add the technology into it. You know, it, it can be. It can really get into a. And to a sticky situation quickly and best intentions by all people. And, and, you know, students Will Young people kind of do. I think they do their best doing what they think they're supposed to do. And sometimes the influences come from all over the place and that makes it a a really unclear pathway for the for the young person.
00:21:30 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. Alright, here's the loaded question. OK. So what is the cost? To not paying attention to not collaborating, to not creating that safety that. Youth need to facilitate learning. What's what are we missing? In not doing that.
00:21:58 Tracy Gallegos
Wow. You know. I guess my personal opinion is that it's a it's it's huge, right. And you know what we see is a a lot of struggle with our young people right now. We when we look at data we look at the the need for mental mental health support for young people. That those numbers have grown. A lot in the last few years and yeah. You know the the problem is that even the funding structures that exist in our public schools. Are they make it difficult to meet those kind of needs? And you know, this is a Western Colorado show. Right. And so in western Colorado? You know, we don't have a lot of money. In comparison with some of the other districts like on the Front Range and so the way that we allocate the resources that we have. You know, school districts, even the size of District 51, which is the largest district between Salt Lake City and Denver, you know, we don't have a ton of money to. To help alone, you know, we really do need a community support. And we really do need parents willing to. Make time in their busy lives to understand responsibilities and to really give input. To make sure that we are creating. Um, you know, the type of guidance that that the kids need in order to. To figure this out, this is a messy yeah, really. Yeah, unknown territory that we're chartering. I'm with our young people and they're the ones that are like. In the ship, you know.
00:23:50 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, 100%. Yeah, I look at that cost. I think it's significant as well. It's. Um. You know, it's the human spirit, it's our future leaders, it's the collaborators and the innovators that will take on and address the next set of challenges. It's just like tamping down possibility and potential and so. The works super important what are you excited for? So as you look over the next couple of years.
00:24:22 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah, I'm excited for a lot of things. You know. One of the. One of the challenges we have in public education is our workforce situation. And you know, we have a. You know the the the teaching profession is so important. And we are, we are not doing a great job currently attracting the talent we need, retaining the talent we have. And so, you know, that's a that's a big ask, but I do think that. You know, we have a potential to really bring on the workforce that we need to, to make to meet this challenge. You know, some of it is. We need some help. With our community to get the message out. That hey, this is a worthy. Occupation, this is a worthy career path that is critical and it's it's just as important as any other industry out there because it's all about our youth and developing our youth. So we need some help with that messaging because right now, you know, politically or even. Even just if you look at media. Educators get pretty beat up. And you know that the nobody benefits from that, right? So we right, we do need to kind of flip the script. One of the things that I'm really passionate about, there's an organization called the Colorado Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. We call it goannas, and I'm the chair of that organization this year. And our mission is to really help make sure that we are diversifying the leadership within the school districts of Colorado and finding. And developing leadership within our educators and it specifically our educators who really are who understand. And are able to be great role models for our Latina Keyser Latinx student population. And so I think there's a lot of potential there. You know we have a mission to get some statewide recognition and really start partnering with school districts to make sure that we are. We're bringing some good talent that way and our organization is growing and and you know. We I do think there are a lot of very passionate people. Couple who are understanding the need to get into the profession and really become leaders and make sure that they are. You know, ready to leave the changes that we need to make. It's actually really exciting because as we've talked about, we really have to start going in a different direction. We have to start reimagining how we're teaching our kids and and that's fun work, and so I'm hoping that we can. We can continue to work with our partners and really get that message out there and generate some excitement and also would help if we could figure out how to, to pay our educators what they're worth. That's a, that's a, that's a, that's a problem.
00:27:44 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, yeah. That all adds into it, so. I could talk about education and youth for for a long, long time, Tracy. And and we'll we'll start summing U this conversation for now and we'll follow up. But Umm, you know I'm hearing the excitement is around the collaboration is it and it's around the shift and the change which is also you know part of the challenge. But I think in every challenge there's also that opportunity. Findings critical. Just kind of ramping up the the juice behind transformational work, which is education and teaching like it's it's significant in a in a humans life. Where do you see opportunities like how might businesses and community leaders work together even more for the greater good?
00:28:41 Tracy Gallegos
Yeah. So one of the things that I would. What I would offer is that many districts, including District 51 and other districts here on the Western Slope. Most districts actually have what we call a strategic plan. Yes. And it's something that we develop with community input, but a lot of the strategic plans that are being developed nowadays and District 51 is in their first year of implementing the strategic plan that we've developed recently, but many of them have. A focus point for Community partnership. And so you know. The leaders of the districts really need to be going out and finding the community partners that they need to help meet the needs of the kids, but also our community partners. Are should feel obligated, I feel, to to reach out to district leaders and say hey. I want to support our youth. Here's something I can do. And maybe it's maybe it's a financial support, you know, school districts can use money, maybe there's a maybe there's a something that they are able to do that they can invite some youth to come in and learn about workforce development type opportunity. Those are really big needs for our kids right now. So I do think that. The partnership opportunity is there and I'm seeing it become more solidified within strategic plans throughout the state. And so that was that. That's a recommendation I would have for community members is like get a hold of that Superintendent, you know, all superintendents have a way for the community to to interact with them and communicate with them and say, hey, what can I do? Also, I would just say that it's critical to make sure that our youth are involved in these discussions. Because, uh, what the what I think is that our youth understand their needs. Umm. Probably better than our adults do. And yeah, our adults seem to be able to listen and figure out how to really empower youth to. To find solutions for themselves and for their peers because our youth understand what our youth are going through.
00:31:09 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, heard. If somebody's listening right now and and wants to be that individual to get involved, we'll throw in the D51 school district e-mail and maybe even point to the the Superintendent. Is that the the best route for communication?
00:31:29 Tracy Gallegos
And so honestly, if it's a D51 person. They can contact me. I am in charge of implementing their Community partnership awesome and our family connection component of our strategic plan. And so, yeah, you know, I'd be a great person to start with. If you know, they could always give all the Superintendent, but you would probably get forwarded to me pretty quickly, yeah.
00:31:56 Matthew Kuehlhorn
But yeah, put your school district e-mail if that's the best one in the show. Now you.
00:32:00 Tracy Gallegos
Bet. And then you know also. You know, there's different levels, so there's that district level, but there's also that school level. And so, you know. Getting a hold of a principal, especially if you have a a maybe one of your children or go to a school and you and you say hey, I would love to help out you know, and make sure that while my kids are attending this school, you know, I'd love to figure out ways that I could support and and help create that safe place or help support the goals of the school so that school level participation is is would be really helpful too. Yeah, and I've never, you know, I was a, I was a a building administrator for 9 years here in our district and I've never been disappointed when a parent said, hey, I want to help somehow, you know what, can I do it, it was always like, alright, that's what we need, we need more of that, right?
00:32:56 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, well, we'll get you something. I get that. I hear that. I'll take, I'll take my own actions. That's inspiring and. Tracy, I really appreciate the story. I appreciate the dedication. You know, I think that. Youth are better off because you're in that position and championing them and um, yeah, I just. Is really really appreciate. The. I mean, not to get sappy, but it's the love. It's the dedication, it's the. It's the rallying. It's all the pieces. So thank you for your time today. Thank you for the work that you do, my friend.
00:33:35 Tracy Gallegos
Well, thank you for putting this. This podcast together. You know, I think it's so cool to highlight. You know, people in the community who have passion, and so I've been able to watch a few of them. They've been great. You know, it's this type of stuff that we need to do collectively as a community to improve our world, right? And so I appreciate you taking that part and thank you for your interest. You know, I I would love to talk any other time you have. They have then, yeah. And with whoever.
00:34:10 Matthew Kuehlhorn
You see?
00:34:11 Tracy Gallegos
I encourage people to reach out even if they wanna give me some some advice or whatever that that they think that. You know, the 50 ones doing things not in the right way. When it comes to focusing in on on the students we're trying to figure out how to serve, I'm always open to the recommendation.
00:34:34 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Awesome, awesome. Well, I have a feeling that we will talk again very soon. Alright, enjoy the day.
00:34:42 Tracy Gallegos
Thank you.