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Case Study: Centering Community Voices and Racial Equity: Cincinnati Public Schools

Sector: Education
Client: Cincinnati Public Schools

“It’s great to be able to sit back and be able to listen to what our constituents are saying, and Cohear is important to me because it provides that vehicle for us. You might think, ‘oh, I can hold my own focus group’, but when there is someone that they also trust to facilitate this and they can make sure that their voice is heard, whether it’s our students, our parents, or our community, it is so, so precious to be able to take that back to study and then take action on.”

–CPS Assistant Superintendent Shauna Murphy

The Challenge

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the state of Ohio. This makes bringing the voices of students and parents into the decision making process at the district-wide level imperative—and uniquely difficult. When the events of 2020 brought a new depth of challenge, highlighting racial injustice and exacerbating educational inequity, CPS deepened its partnership with Cohear in order to seek out everyday expertise on these critical issues.

The Conversation
  • More than 45 focus groups, Cohear advisory board meetings, anti-racism policy working group meetings, and Speak Up Speak Out sessions

  • 225+ participants including students, parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, and community stakeholders connected to Cohear by our network of community Bridgebuilders

“These coaches and teachers, these are the people we’re around every day… If I can openly go to my coach and say something about [racism and police brutality] and they can acknowledge it and we can work to do something to change it, then that gives me the reassurance that someone cares.”


The Ideas

During these many conversations with diverse stakeholders, some common needs for students emerged time and again. 


  • Opportunities to gain life skills that go beyond the classroom, whether that be in the form of entrepreneurship courses, personal finance instruction, guidance applying to trade schools and colleges, or hands-on career exploration opportunities. 

  • A holistic, dynamic, and modern form of Black history education which is not bounded by social studies classes or Black history month. Instead, it should be year round and interwoven into every subject, highlighting the work of Black authors, scientists, and mathematicians.

  • Community building opportunities for students, especially students of color, in the form of peer support groups and mentorship programs.

  • Improved relationships between school staff and students to facilitate trust and better mental health outcomes for those in crisis.

The Outcome

Cohear has worked side-by-side with Cincinnati Public Schools leadership to provide strategy advising and implementation guidance regarding everyday expert insights, as well as continually coming back to the community to engage further. This work has been hugely impactful, with results including:


  • Adoption of a district-wide Anti-Racism policy crafted by key community leaders and stakeholders and informed by student concerns.

  • Development of “Adulting 101”, a class which teaches students about personal finance management, navigating life after high school, understanding student loans, and more.

  • Presentation of a student list of demands, crafted by a group of students involved in Cohear-facilitated Speak Up Speak Out sessions, to the school board. Actions taken by the Superintendent as a result of these demands include:

    • Commitment to revising curriculum to include Black history year-round and highlight Black figures in other subjects

    • Speak Up Speak Out, a platform for Black students to share their experiences and advocate for change, is now accessible at all district schools

    • Holding of a student-led public rally for racial equity and educational transformation

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