At the outset of the 2020 school year, Noble set a bold and ambitious goal of becoming a more antiracist organization. Since then, Noble announced our anti-racism commitment (ARC), we engaged thousands of families in surveys and feedback to guide a reexamination of policies and practice. Since February, grounded in that feedback from parents, students, and alumni, ARC design teams have been meeting to guide the way forward on Noble policy and practice as it relates to our student code of conduct, uniform, promotion and graduation requirements, curriculum design and more. Those design teams then shared draft proposals with groups of Noble stakeholders for intensive feedback – hundreds of Noble family members, staff, students, and alumni engaged in these refine team spaces. This post is part of a series of updates on that work in progress.

Brenda Cora led the uniform design team which was focused on examining policies and practices around the Noble school uniform and was a participant in the student code of conduct design team.

Brenda Cora is a Chief Schools Officer at Noble, in that capacity she oversees six Noble principals and supports their leadership of campuses. Brenda is also a Noble alumna, graduating from the Noble Street College Prep campus in 2003. 

We sat down with Brenda to discuss this ARC design and refine work:

Brenda Cora

Q. Can you share a bit about what you were charged within this ARC process?
A. School uniforms have historically been used as tools of assimilation, and Noble is not exempt. Some of the identified issues were:

  • Our uniform policy had little to no input from students and family even though they would be required to adhere to it.
  • When students didn’t have on a complete uniform, it often resulted in students being removed from class – losing precious instructional time.
  • Our uniform policy violations resulted in higher demerit counts, which impacted promotion ability and a plethora of other inequitable outcomes (retention, graduation rates, etc.)
  • Our uniform policy normalized the policing of students’ bodies, and its rigid constraints led to safety for some but may have also led to emotional harm for others

This spring I was charged to lead a design team who rewrote Noble’s uniform policy to be actively antiracist in its creation and implementation while centering our design work around our student and parent voices.

Q. Can you describe the ARC work you’ve been engaging in this year? When did it start?
A. In February, we began our design work by sharing a community stakeholder survey with parents, students, alumni, and community members in order to get direct feedback about their experiences with Noble’s uniform policy. Some key highlights from this data collection:

  • When we asked parents if they believed Noble students should wear a uniform – of the 435 parents who participated in the survey – 74% of our parents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement.
  • When we asked students if they believed Noble students should wear a uniform – of the 690 students who participated in the survey – 29% of our students strongly agreed or agreed with this statement.

We quickly noticed that there was a glaring difference between what parents believed and what students believed. So, as a design team, we decided to find time to get in front of parents to understand more before starting our design work.

We joined four parent meetings at Muchin, Rowe-Clark, Gary Comer College Prep and Pritzker, where we heard from approximately 170 parents. We asked parents, “What purpose does the uniform serve for you and your child?” and heard the following:

  • Safety – parents shared they wanted a uniform that would allow them or any adult to quickly identify their child as a Noble scholar in the neighborhood, school building, or on public transit
  • Community – parents wanted a uniform that builds school pride and community
  • Affordability – parents shared that uniforms were cost-effective because they limited the amount of clothing a family needed to purchase for their child
  • Professionalism – parents appreciate how the uniform gives students a neat appearance

Q. How did you generate your original proposals, where did you seek feedback?
A. As a design team, we took the feedback we received from students and parents and created three core beliefs that would guide our design work:

  • Our uniform policy must ensure that all students have equitable and positive student experiences where they can dress comfortably without fear of disciplinary action, body shaming, or the critical loss of instructional time
  • Our guiding principles for the new uniform policy must reflect the parent concerns regarding Safety, Community, Affordability, and Professionalism
  • Our uniform policy must allow teachers/staff to focus their energy on teaching and building positive relationships with students, rather than the policing of student bodies

With our three core beliefs in hand, we tackled a complete revision of the Noble uniform policy. After centering student and family voices as we rewrote the uniform policy, we brought the recommendation to four “Refine” teams for further review. These teams brought together parents, principals, staff, and students to hear their thoughts and feedback on the recommendation.

Q. Can you talk about one thing that shifted in your draft proposal as a result of that community feedback?
A. The decision to not allow certain head coverings was grounded in both student and parent feedback regarding safety, specifically traveling to and from school. Students and parents both shared concerns and fear about unintentionally being a victim of violence because of head attire as it can mean so many things to different people. To elevate and alleviate parent and student concerns, we opted to not permit hats, hoods, and balaclavas/ski masks. However, the following are still permitted: 1) wear head coverings that honor religion and/or culture and 2) hats or head coverings necessitated by a medical issue.

Q. What else do you want people to know about the ARC design and refine process you’ve engaged in thus far this year?
A. Our default in many of the conversations we have had around change is to focus on the policy aspect, and not necessarily the practice. There is a core issue in that prioritization: it’s much easier to blame a policy than to blame our own actions as being racist. That’s not to say policies can’t be racist or that changing policy is not important. What we’ve found is that our family members and Noble members generally appreciate our policies (not all, but most), but they find the most hardship in how these policies are enacted and over whom. Rewriting Noble’s dress code policy was the “easy” part, changing hearts and minds is the core of this policy change. We need to examine our implicit biases and shift how we see our students to ensure that our practices and execution align with the spirit of our new dress code policy.

Q. Why do you think this ARC work is so important?
A. There are deeply embedded inequities in our educational system that we must work to interrupt. We’ve made great strides that we should be proud of and our work is not done. The continued work of dismantling white supremacy forces us to look deeper and work harder. We must promote an antiracist approach to our equity work, and it’s crucial that we do this by examining ourselves and the very systems we employ in order to ensure that they are not perpetuating the hierarchies we profess to be disassembling.

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