Daniel Spikes, an assistant professor in the School of Education, will speak about cultural proficiency at the Summit on School Climate and Culture. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Iowa State to share expertise in cultural proficiency

Two assistant professors in the Iowa State University School of Education will share their expertise on cultural proficiency at the Des Moines Public Schools’ first annual Summit on School Climate and Culture.

Daniel Spikes and Jason Salisbury will be among a national panel of experts in school improvement speaking before nearly 1,200 educators at the first-of-its-kind event aimed at making a difference in the school and classroom. The summit will be held Aug. 8 and 9 at the Iowa Events Center.

“I am passionate about preparing individuals to lead socially just schools,” Spikes said.

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Jason Salisbury

At the summit, Spikes aims to raise awareness about institutional oppression and how a lack of awareness can lead to the perpetuation of all forms of oppression, specifically racism. 

Spikes' research shows that students of color would like to see more professors who look like them. His research focuses on school leadership, social justice, anti-racist leadership, racial disparities in education, and school tracking policies.

“Daniel has been a partner of the Des Moines Public Schools for some time,” said Jake Troja, the district’s director of school climate transformation. “His knowledge on cultural proficiency, specifically at the district level, is what made us choose him. Daniel has a great way of unpacking this difficult topic, which transcends most staff hesitation to discuss.”

Salisbury, who worked as a high school special education teacher for eight years, will share his expertise on what school leaders can do to improve the success of students of color. His research has particularly looked at ninth graders.

“All first-year students across the United States struggle,” Salisbury said. “But students of color, we know, aren’t being served well by schools. You have a cumulative effect of they’re being poorly served because they’re first-year students and on top of that, they’re first-year students of color.”

Improving school climate and culture

The two-day summit aims to improve school climate and culture through professional development, skill building, and application of current best practices and research.

A series of workshops, speeches, and breakout sessions will focus on best practices in improving student behavior, multi-tiered system of supports, cultural proficiency, social and emotional health, and stakeholder engagement.

“The Des Moines Public Schools are always looking for ways to be innovative and ensure that our staff have the best preparation and ongoing professional development,” Troja said. “There are a few quality conferences out there that address school climate, but none are local. Hosting an event like the summit is a great way to bring in the best of the best nationally and ensure that our staff have an opportunity to continue to develop as professionals and make it cost effective.”

The cost to participate is $275 per person. Group rates are available. Participants can register as late as the day of the summit.

“Our goal is to improve the understanding of quality schools’ climate and in turn improve practice, which will result in improved school climate,” Troja said. “Ultimately, improved school climate will result in improved student outcomes.”

Leaders of change

Faculty members in the Iowa State University School of Education are leaders in social justice. Dozens of recent hires have brought more faculty members of color to the College of Human Sciences and a sharper focus on social justice struggles from preschool through higher education.

Fourteen of those faculty members — many of them of black, Latino, or Asian — center their research on social justice and participate in the graduate certificate in Education for Social Justice, a growing program that is experiencing increasing interest among students across campus.

Together, faculty and students are making Iowa State a statewide and national leader in scholarly inquiry in education for social justice.

"I'm really interested in helping to share a more diverse, more multicultural history of Iowa than what is typically told in schools,” said Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor in the School of Education.

The graduate certificate in Education for Social Justice is directed by Gale Seiler, an associate professor who has extensive experience in teaching across the country and world. Seiler’s research focuses on students from racial, ethnic, and economic populations who are commonly underrepresented in science.

“Even students who people might think are not interested in science, who are on the verge of dropping out — if given the opportunity, they will ask questions, they’ll try to connect science with their own lives,” Seiler said. “But often, those efforts get missed by the teachers.”

A key initiative of the college

Diversity and social responsibility are key initiatives of the College of Human Sciences, which strives to create a stimulating, holistic, and nourishing environment for people of all backgrounds, cultures, religions, socio-economic statuses, and abilities.

Pamela White, dean emeritus of the College of Human Sciences, last fall issued a letter to all faculty, staff, and students, with a plea for a welcome and inclusive environment.

“I want to emphasize that Iowa State University and the College of Human Sciences have made diversity a cornerstone of our educational programs,” White said. “We welcome the views and ideas of all persons regardless of their place of birth, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, religion, disability, or other aspects of what we look like or where we come from.”

In addition, the college has a committee on diversity, equity, and community led by Eulanda Sanders, the college’s new equity adviser and the Donna R. Danielson Professor in Textiles and Clothing. The committee aims to suggest and promote strategies that encourage diversity and improve equity.