Dionne Blue Promotes Equity and Inclusion in Columbus City Schools
The district’s first chief equity officer wants all students have the same opportunity to be successful.
Nearly two decades ago, Dionne Blue, now the chief equity officer of Columbus City Schools, was working at the Multicultural Center of Ohio State University, from which she had received her Ph.D. in education several years prior.
As the coordinator of Women Student Services, she found the work satisfying, but also frustrating. “It seemed like most students of color had more remedial classes, or they weren’t being as successful,” Blue says. “I thought, ‘You know what? Where I am right now is not helping. All I’m doing is trying to put Band-Aids on problems.’”
So Blue decided to focus on younger students. From 2008 until 2020, she served as the chief diversity officer in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. in Indiana, helping students of all backgrounds gain equal footing. That experience led her in August 2020 to become the first chief equity officer of Columbus City Schools. Her charge: promoting equity and inclusion among a diverse group of 50,000 students and 9,000 employees.
The native of Newark, New Jersey, grew up in a U.S. Army family, an experience she believes fostered her perspective on the world.
Why did education appeal as a career?
When you’re a kid, you play different role-plays, and I always played school. I always played a teacher and had a chalkboard. My grandmother used to say I was bossy. I was always instructing and delegating. My father has teachers on his side of the family, both his mom and both his sisters.
In high school, I really fell in love with English. I was always very good at English and writing, but fell in love with literature. It was the English teachers that I had in high school that made me want to become a teacher. It didn’t end up that I became a high school teacher, which is what I originally thought I would be, but I still stayed in education.
How did you end up focusing on diversity and equity?
Being an Army brat, having lived in so many places around so many people, really helped to give me an expanded view of life and of people, and a different comfort level around people who are different from me.
I get to college, and I’m the student who always thought of myself as intelligent, but there are smart people everywhere. Going to an all-women’s, historically Black college [Spelman College], it’s 500 Black girls in your freshman class who are all equally smart or as smart as you are. I thought, “All of our education is not made equal.” I think that’s where it started for me.
When I think about the work of a chief diversity officer or a chief equity officer, my passion [is], how can I make sure that all students who are graduating … leave with the same experience in terms of the level of quality of education that they receive.
Why did you take the position in Columbus?
I grew up in a religious household, and I believe that the things that are for us are for us. I’m also the type of person that if an opportunity is too hard to pursue, then I know that is God’s way of telling me, “This isn’t the thing for you.”
[The job in Columbus] just always felt like this is the right choice, this is the right time, and this is the right place. It all worked out in a way that told my spirit that this was where I was supposed to be.
How is equity tied to student outcomes?
One of my favorite definitions of equity is that the predictability of success or failure is not tied to a person’s social identity, whether it’s their race or gender or socioeconomic status. When we think about outcomes, we want to be in a place where all students have the same opportunity to be successful. The output is equality; the input is equity. We create conditions and provide students what they need so that they have the same opportunity to reach the bar.
Has Columbus City Schools emphasized its focus on equity as a result of current events and the calls for racial justice?
The times in which we live have always been this way for people of color. It’s more public because of the media, it’s more public because of technology, but the actual things that people of color experience have not changed drastically in terms of the negative impact of racism. I would not say that we are increasing a focus on it because the fact that the superintendent came here with a focus on it at all was major.
What it does bring to light more is, “How is the community working together, including the school district, to help make our community safer and more inclusive and accepting?”
How have students reacted to social-justice movements?
I do think we would probably know more, see more, if we were physically together every day. I do know that we have students who have participated in marches and who have written things, publicly made statements and things like that. Students are the future voice—well, they are the current voice—but their ideas are what we’ll be implementing and talking about in 30 or 40 years.
A shorter version of this Q&A appears in "Snapshot" in the Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.