Bakari Ukuu began his career in education as a Teach For America classroom teacher in Kansas City. He loved teaching, but wanted to know more about the education ecosystem outside of his classroom and school building in order to better serve his students. He believes educators have to be more globally aware of the education policies and conversations happening at the district, state, and federal levels. He says, “If educators are not part of the important policy and practice conversations that shape education, or if our perspectives are missing, that means that we're limiting the outcomes of our kids.” Particularly, Bakari was interested in curriculum development in Kansas City Public Schools writ large, and learning how to influence the development of culturally-responsive curriculum. Bakari defines culturally-responsive curriculum as “incorporating multiple perspectives, highlighting the culture of the students being taught, and framing minority and less dominant cultures in positive ways.”
“As a classroom teacher, I had experience with the Kansas City curriculum and always felt it was not as culturally responsive as it could be—that there were missing pieces,” says Bakari. “When I discovered that EP had a partnership with my district, I was excited about the possibility of embedding myself in a robust conversation about moving our district towards delivering education that is more culturally-responsive.”
- Strategy & Planning
Bakari was placed as a Fellow in Kansas City Public Schools in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development department. While there, Bakari found himself not only able to have critical conversations with leadership about social justice standards and culturally responsive teaching that helped inform new curriculum, but also in front of other teachers delivering professional development on the topics that mattered most to him.
Because of the skills and knowledge Bakari developed as a teacher and instructional coach, he was asked to facilitate professional development for all secondary teachers, new and returning, on culturally responsive teaching. Within the PD sessions, Bakari led teachers through multiple articles and protocols to uncover personal biases and worked on how to navigate and overcome them to create more equitable opportunities for all Kansas City students.
As an EP Fellow, Bakari was also able to assist the district’s curriculum coordinator on embedding Teaching Tolerance’s social justice standards into Kansas City’s K-5 social studies curriculum. Those standards are in practice across elementary classrooms today.
“The EP Fellowship allowed me to leverage my expertise to facilitate conversations around culturally responsive teaching while learning more about the components that go into creating curriculum,” Bakari says. “It was everything I had hoped for and more. I knew I would learn a lot, but I never thought I would be the one leading district PD.”
Today, Bakari is the Vice-Principal at Northeast Middle School in Kansas City. He says the EP Fellowship prepared him to stand in front of his own staff of 70+ with differing levels of readiness and facilitate effective professional development, and broadened his knowledge of content and curriculum in order to have more meaningful interactions with staff.
He also built relationships with the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development and the curriculum coordinators at the district-level that make it easy for him to offer feedback. He says, “Now that I have hands-on experience and relationships with the people who write our curriculum, when there are questions or gaps, I can go directly to the source.”
Ukuu is grateful for an EP cohort that he continues to connect with on issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice. “My cohort experience was just as fantastic as my placement. My cohort was full of people who really pushed my thinking. We still have a group text going where we share podcasts, books, and articles that we think would be good for others to read and listen to.”
Bakari is committed to being a leader that “helps dismantle a system that has been designed against students of color.” He says, “We need to dismantle systems of oppression and disrupt inequity in education in order to create greater outcomes for students of color.”