Martha Castellon, Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)’s equity coordinator, held a meeting on Dec. 2 to discuss the achievement gap affecting Historically Underrepresented Students (HUR). Spearheaded by recommendations from the Minority Achievement and Talent Development (MATD) Advisory Committee, Castellon has proposed the first draft of an Equity Plan to a group of parents, students and District administrators.
Traditionally, HUR students are those who come from low-income families who demonstrate a history of academic deficiency in the district.
Of the 40 focus goals set in the Equity Plan, 12 were identified as “priority goals” by the MATD committee. Five of these proposed priority goals will be enacted by the 2016-2017 school year. Such plans include creating a process to expedite the process of soliciting feedback from HUR students and parents, finalizing the Equity Plan, continuation of the MATD Advisory Committee, ensuring that enrichment programs actively reach out to HUR families and encouraging school-based parent groups to share resources with HUR parents.
Another main point of interest in the Equity Plan was creating the Parent Advocate/Liaison position at the District level. There are currently 11 part-time parent liaisons serving at the 18 schools in the District.
According to the Equity Plan, “liaisons will help each school by reaching out to HUR families, creating opportunities for involvement. They will collaborate with parent groups that serve HUR families to increase parent engagement throughout the district, such as serving as interpreters for parent-teacher conferences if there are language barriers.”
Currently, the District is already providing “ongoing administrator, certificated and classified [unconscious bias] training to support the Equity Plan,” as noted in the Equity Plan. PAUSD staff will undergo this training every four to six years.
“Staff of color will already have an understanding of the struggles that HUR students may feel so there’s no need for any additional training.”
As stated by the MATD Advisory Committee, an underlying and likely unconscious “deficit mindset” as opposed to an asset based mindset results in a narrative of bias associated with the capability and potential of HUR students. Students of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, are disproportionately likely to be diverted into lower lanes and special education.
However, concerns were raised regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of such training.
“Why not just hire a more diverse population of staff members for those classes who need it,” said Marcia Perez, a San Francisco Immigration Attorney and mother of two children in PAUSD. “Staff of color will already have an understanding of the struggles that HUR students may feel so there’s no need for any additional training.”
The District is also encouraging community members, especially those who are directly affected by it, to provide feedback on the proposed Equity Plan. The plan will also be brought up to the Board of Education, District administrators to solicit feedback and recommendations for amendment.
“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to leave comments and make your input heard because, unfortunately, this has been an issue in this district for many years,” a parent at the meeting said.
Another concern that was raised by a parent was the lack of representation that HUR students receive in the classroom curriculum. The solution that was proposed was to create an ethnic studies course that serves as an alternative class to US Government and US history.
“Time after time, it has been shown through research from Harvard [and] Princeton, that children of color who learn about themselves in history, who see their place, do better and better and the gap is actually closed,” Perez said. “There’s the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland which is a high performing school composed entirely of children of color and they have reached proficiency in 100 percent english, 100 percent math… they have an Ethnic Studies course.”
There is not yet a specific time frame set in which the District aims to close the achievement gap by a certain amount but the data collected pertaining to HUR families will be tracked annually.