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Distinguished Alumni: Kristin Wright's work helps bring equity, inclusion to thousands of students with disabilities

Kristin Wright started down one path, found it an ill fit, then turned to a field that became her passion.

When Kristin Wright first came to Sacramento State, she did not see herself as a social “do-gooder.” She decided to major in Business.

That changed once Wright – now the Sacramento County Office of Education’s (SCOE) director of Equity,  Prevention, and Intervention – took her first Accounting course.

“It was a terrible fit,” she said, chuckling at her retrospective assessment.

Wright, who switched her major to Sociology and earned her bachelor’s degree in 2007, is recipient of a 2021 Distinguished Service Award from the Sacramento state Alumni Association.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) were not educational buzzwords when Wright subsequently chose to pursue a teaching credential in Special Education, which she received in 2010. Wright’s introduction to the culture of inclusion came through the instruction of Professor Kathleen Gee in Sac State’s Special Education Teaching Credential program, which Wright said was about more than learning how to be a teacher.

Kristin Wright
Kristin Wright says success comes when there is a "deep level of trust" with agencies and leaders who are "willing to risk building something." (Sacramento State/Student Affairs Marketing and Communications)

“It really was about  gaining the tools and igniting a passion to seek equity and inclusion for all kids, especially kids with significant disabilities, without me knowing it was fundamentally about equity,” she said. “I didn’t go in to my credential and masters with equity as the mission, but that’s how it evolved.

Being a parent of a child with disabilities and the first-hand experience of trying to navigate the complexities associated with systems meant to provide help informed Wright’s decision to pursue special education.

Wright said Gee and Jean Gonsier-Gerdin, a professor in the College of Education, provided a level of guidance and support that ultimately changed the trajectory for Wright’s daughter Shelby, whose special needs were being addressed in a home program until Wright’s understanding of the importance of inclusion blossomed.

“(Gee and Gonsier-Gerdin) believe so strongly in inclusion and the right for students with disabilities to realize their dreams, that it’s like, you have to get on the train,” Wright said. “There is no other option.”

Wright is a little more than a year into her job with the county office, working with people she describes as “a devoted team” whom has met only a handful of times in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is so much potential for innovation and collaboration in Sacramento County, both across agencies and in support of the districts and schools we support,” she said. “I’m excited about working with a team of leaders who truly want to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion at SCOE and in our schools.”

One of the newer SCOE initiatives Wright is excited about is a county-sponsored effort to place a mental health clinician in every school in Sacramento County over the next decade. The ultimate vision is to make schools centers of wellness where every child has access to the support they need to learn and thrive. Clinicians are SCOE employees and offered to districts at no cost.

“These kinds of initiatives only work if you have built a deep level of trust with other agencies and leaders and they are willing to risk building something that has yet to be imagined,” Wright said. “It is one of the reasons I wanted to come to SCOE. Superintendent (David W.) Gordon values people and understands how important relationships are.”

A passion for service is something of a bloodline for Wright, whose parents both taught in the Sacramento City Unified School District. Her mother later became a social worker, a career Wright’s sister also pursued.

Wright’s personal experiences provided the opportunity for her to learn first-hand how the system was working, or not working for students and families, which she has brought to her jobs at all levels of the system.

“When I think about creating or working on program, policy or bigger-picture things, I try to think through the lens of lots of perspectives, especially parents and families,” she said. “I also try to seek out those perspectives I don’t have, as I don’t want to assume everyone is having a similar lived experience.”

Gee and praised her former student effusively.

“Kristin’s data and research-driven approach to program and policy creation is moving California towards greater educational equity and empowerment for every student,” Gee wrote in her nominating letter. “Her work is directly impacting the nearly 800,000 students with disabilities currently in California.

“Moreover, Kristin’s impact is far greater than this, as the policies and programs she establishes will benefit generations of children to come.”

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About Ahmed V. Ortiz

Ahmed V. Ortiz is a writer/editor, working at Sac State since 2011, after a 13-year newspaper career. He is an avid cyclist, enjoys traveling and loves animals and most sports, especially baseball. Ahmed believes in doing no harm and that love is the only way.

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