the boy that was used for the branding for CUBE 2020

The Council of Urban Boards of Education’s (CUBE) annual conference was held virtually this year. Attendees, speakers, and sponsors gathered in September for three days of keynote addresses, sessions, and other virtual events and activities.

Dealing with the pandemic was much on the minds of presenters, with sessions that included leadership during the pandemic, as well as the logistics of feeding students while school buildings are closed and engaging students in online learning.

Equity was at the forefront as well, with sessions on inclusion and cultural biases; dismantling racism in a large urban school district; and a mentoring model that is seeding resilience in vulnerable students.

NSBA leaders, including Executive Director and CEO Anna Maria Chávez, NSBA President Charlie Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer Frank Henderson, and Chief Equity and Member Services Officer Verjeana Jacobs, offered messages and greetings.


Jacinto Ramos Jr., the chair of the 2020-21 CUBE Steering Committee, was the first keynote speaker of the conference. He discussed the five stages of Racial and Cultural Identity Development by researchers George Morten, Donald R. Atkinson, and Derald Wing Sue.

He closed by encouraging everyone to uncover the hidden counternarratives of U.S. history, which can be found by researching.

Mawi Asgedom, the founder of Mawi Learning, gave the second keynote address of the conference. Mawi Learning is an organization that helps educators and students apply evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL).

Empathy is leadership’s secret weapon, he said. The ability to put yourselves in the shoes of your principals, administrators, teachers, parents, and students will serve school leaders during the pandemic and beyond. “As a school board member, its critical to have empathy for everyone in your ecosystem,” he said.

Asgedom ended his address by using a video game metaphor. The turbo button on a video game controller gives a player extra power. Similarly, he said, SEL research shows that we have a turbo button as well: It’s the practice of focusing on what we can control, not on what we cannot control.

“When we focus on what we can control, we can do things. If we focus on things that we can’t, we are not hitting the turbo button.” He suggests that school leaders can help others hit the turbo button by making sure deliberations and discussions stay focused on what is solvable.

“We can stay anchored in the power of what we can do. Daily, adjust to concentrate on what we can control,” he said. “Lead with the love that is the reason that you do your job.”

Break-out sessions

Representatives of the National CARES Mentoring Movement presented the session, “Using a Culturally Anchored and Healing-Centered Approach to Help Students Advance.” They discussed the use of group mentoring in 10 school districts across the country and how mentoring helps SEL and academic achievement.

In “Award-Winning Equity at Work,” two 2020 Magna Awards Grand Prize-winning districts, Missouri’s Liberty Public Schools and California’s Moreno Valley Unified School District, presented on their winning programs for underserved students. Liberty Academy is a project-based learning alternative high school. Moreno Valley’s Community Wellness Center is a life preserver for disadvantaged students and their families.

Mary Fertakis, CEO of M. Fertakis Consulting, and Kay Douglas, senior consultant of the Texas Association of School Boards, presented, “Has Your District Taken an Equity Detour?” They looked at Paul Gorski’s four racial equity detours and five equity principles that help school board members and administrators take a genuine transformational racial equity approach.

Members of Texas’ Fort Worth Independent School District spoke about their efforts in their session, “Dismantling Institutional Racism in a Large Urban School District.” They discussed the role of the Equity and Excellence Division in engaging, sustaining, and deepening conversations about race.

2020 award winners

Five awards for 2020 were given out at the conference: CUBE’s Award for Urban School Board Excellence, CUBE’s Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award, National American Indian and Alaska Native Council’s (AIAN) Luminous Eagle Award, the National Black Council of School Board Members’ (NBC) Recognizing Innovative Strategies in Equity (RISE) Award, and the National Hispanic Council’s (NHC) Octaviano “Tony” Gonzales Abrazo Award.

The Award for Urban School Board Excellence went to Tennessee’s Shelby County Schools. The school board finalized a strategic plan in 2015 to achieve the following goals by 2025: 80 percent of students college/career ready, 90 percent of seniors graduate on time, and 100 percent of graduates enroll in a postsecondary opportunity. The board has made tremendous progress in achieving these goals.

Rodney Jordan, vice chair of the School Board of the City of Norfolk and president of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA), earned this year’s Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award. A board member since 2012, Jordan supported the district’s first equity policy and advocated for the collection and reporting of data to increase transparency in meeting equity goals.

North Carolina’s Cherokee Central Schools won the Luminous Eagle Award. Through the district’s Personalized Education Through Blended Learning and ESTEAM (Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) initiative, it provides all students with the opportunity to explore various ESTEAM curricula and activities using technology as a resource in a blended learning environment.

Arizona’s Alhambra Elementary School District #68 was honored with the RISE Award. The district has made equity a centerpiece of its work by adopting an anti-bias framework. It established an Alternative Learning Center to provide increased access to information, counselors, and other support services.

The Octaviano “Tony” Gonzales Abrazo Award went to United States Hispanic Leadership Institute President Juan Andrade, Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García. The award recognizes Andrade and García for their commitment to improving educational opportunities for Latinx students.

Around NSBA

A group of high school students paint on canvases during an art class.

2023 Magna Awards Grand Prize Winners

School districts rethink and reinvent education for their students, staff, and communities.