Decatur School Board discusses district’s work related to equityThe Decatur School Board met on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Wilson Center to discuss equity and COVID-19. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — Equity was the main topic of discussion at the Decatur School Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman presented the board with a monitoring report on the equity pillar of the district improvement plan, and the equity director presented on the equity work the district is doing.
During the meeting, the School Board discussed monitoring reports, which included talking about the equity pillar of the district improvement plan.
The policy the board will evaluate deals with equitable allocation of available resources and knowing a student’s subgroup will indicate nothing about how they are likely to achieve academically, how their behaviors will be managed or what opportunities they will pursue, according to the report.
The monitoring reports allow the School Board to monitor the superintendent’s performance continuously. Part of the report includes the superintendent’s interpretation of the policy, the means used to achieve or comply with the policies, and an action plan to address any known deficiencies.
In the report, Fehrman said she interprets the portion of the policy that focuses on opportunities students will pursue within and beyond CSD. Fehrman interpreted that to mean examining student participation rates in programs such as gifted, special education, IB career, and others and make sure that all groups identified have similar levels of participation.
School Board Vice Chair Heather Tell suggested adding extracurriculars to the list in that section of the policy. Fehrman said during the Sept. 14 meeting that she was thinking about the academic and instructional programs.
“My intent was that I would like to have some intention to see to it that all groups are invited, encouraged, feel welcomed, represented into extracurricular activities as a whole,” Tell said. “My overall feeling was that I think it’s important that all of our students are encouraged to participate and that you do see representation from all of our [students], because it is an extension of the school. It’s really important for socializing, for social, emotional outlets and support and even for academic enrichment.”
CSD Equity Director Mari Ann Banks presented the framework for equitable outcomes and the initiatives the district has implemented. The initiatives are broken up into three categories — normalize, organize and operationalize — and focus on anti-racism, equity and paying the educational debt to Black students.
Normalize initiatives involves everyone being on the same page, developing cultural humility and developing a shared understanding of key concepts related to racial equity, Banks said.
“Cultural humility turns our gaze inward on developing our self humility and a genuine interest in others,” Banks said. “In order to practice cultural humility, a person must also be aware of and sensitive to historic realities, like legacies of violence against certain groups of people, and be knowledgeable about key concepts related to racial equity, like anti-racism, implicit bias and systemic racism.”
The normalize initiative includes district professional learning that facilitates the execution of the advancing racial equity pillar in each school and the Wilson Center. Banks said 92.5% of CSD’s certified teachers have been trained. Each school also has an equity team of teachers and administrators.
“We are using [equity teams] because research shows us that peer-to-peer instruction is one of the high leverage practices that move instruction,” Banks said. “This work also helps teachers to understand and combat systemic inequities such as disproportionality.”
The district has affinity groups as well. Some are geared toward those who wish to engage in conversation about and explore their personal development journey toward racial justice.
“We are implementing racial affinity groups because the research indicates that they promote staff retention and satisfaction,” Banks said.
Student anti-racism groups have also developed at Renfroe Middle School and Decatur High School. Additionally, students participated in SEE equity, which is scholars examining and engaging equity.
Organize involves building CSD’s capacity to learn the skills and competencies that will prepare all teachers to engage culturally responsive educator practices and curriculum, Banks said.
“This is where culturally responsive education comes in,” Banks said. “But it’s not just the job of teachers. Culturally responsive education is called education and not teaching because it includes all of us, everyone involved from the tiniest unit to the head of the district, even [the School Board]. Because we are all educators in one way or another.”
The culturally responsive framework teachers will learn and use to address equity in the classroom is the “Do 4 Framework.”
“The framework has four quadrants, and each is further explained by discussing four things culturally responsive educators choose to do to be anti-racist, abolitionists, just great teachers as a whole,” Banks said.
Banks added that the district will not see the changes in educational outcomes or pay the debt until the administration is on the ground helping educators do the work.
“They don’t need to just be introduced to this framework. Many will need extensive professional learning and active coaching to make this work part of who they are. We have to do that intentional work if we wish to see substantive change,” Banks said.
The framework has been created for the culturally responsive education. Five out of 11 introduction trainings have been completed.
The organize initiative looks at suspension prevention. Research has raised questions about the effect of suspension. Frequent use of suspension can lead to outcomes like lower academic achievement, higher levels of disruptive behavior and higher school dropout rates, Banks said.
“Particularly troubling is the disproportionate imposition of school suspension on Black students,” Banks said. “National and state data reveal that Black students are three to four times more likely to be suspended for school misconduct than our white students.”
The Department of Equity and Student Services is developing a program of restorative practices instead of suspension so exclusion from school is not a default response to most student behavior, Banks said.
“We are using the ‘Do 4 Framework’ because we believe it will improve academic outcomes for Black students,” Banks said. “We are implementing suspension prevention, because we believe it will improve discipline disparities for Black students.”
The framework for suspension prevention is still in the planning stage.
Operationalize involves revising, increasing and ensuring the implementation of equitable district-wide policies, Banks said.
“Within the operationalize initiative, CSD has done and is doing a lot of work that has resulted in several substantive policy changes that [the School Board is] already familiar with, like the code of conduct,” Banks said.
The district uses the racial equity tool to implement equitable policies across CSD. Banks challenged the board to use the tool consistently to guide their policy decisions.
“It’s a tool with a series of questions that you answer as you are making policy to ensure that the policy is equitable,” Banks said.
The district has also begun using the equitable hiring tool and is constantly adding to the equity website. The front page of the website features buttons for individuals to submit equity concerns. The website additionally features an equity dashboard and equity resources.
CSD is working to decolonize its curriculum through various initiatives such as the equity in education task force, the social studies task force and the equity in assessments task force.
“A curriculum that misrepresents history or does not introduce opportunities for students to engage positively in their own learning is a disservice to students,” Banks said. “However unintended the consequences of such a curriculum, maybe disengagement, lack of connection, low self-esteem.”
The equity in education and assessments task forces are currently recruiting members. The social studies task force, which is a subcommittee of the equity in education task force, has collected and analyzed data district-wide.
The final decolonizing initiative is JADE, a proposal for a single course on anti-racism and social justice that would be taken by every CSD student prior to graduation. The district invited students to provide feedback on the proposal and it has grown a life of it’s own.
Former DHS students Julian Fortuna and Koan Roy-Meighoo expanded the proposal to a three-course curriculum that they would like to see throughout the entirety of middle school. The JADE proposal is in the planning stages and a pilot program is being created that may take place at Renfroe Middle School this spring.
“I cannot emphasize enough that CSD is doing what we do regarding equity in order to pay the debt,” Banks said. “We owe these students, and it’s like triage. We have to pay attention to the students we have injured the most and help them to get better, so we can help others to get better.”
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