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Decatur School Board discusses science, social studies program evaluations

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Decatur School Board discusses science, social studies program evaluations

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur School Board, at its May 23 work session, discussed evaluations of the social studies and science curriculums. Throughout the social studies program review, CSD is working to decolonize its curriculum. 

“Decolonizing means identifying ways in which schools structurally reproduce colonial patterns, then confronting, challenging and rejecting the status quo, and putting alternative roads in place for the benefit of academic integrity and social welcoming,”  Equity Coordinator Anthony Downer previously said. “A decolonized curriculum starts with acknowledging that students’ identities are linked to structural inequities within society.”

The social studies team reviewed the social studies program. The team was made up of members of the department of teaching and learning, the equity team, school coaches, K-2 social studies teachers, community experts, and representatives from local universities and Asian Americans Voices for Education. 

“Our evaluation was designed to develop a clear and coherent program overview, including program goals and objectives, indicators of success, program attributes, a review of current research and practices, curriculum and instruction review, identification of grade level standards and outcomes, and professional learning goals and opportunities,” said Courtney Simon, director of English language arts and social studies. 

The recommendations from the committee include building structures for sustainability. 

“They recommended that the school district needed to create content knowledge institutes during the fall breaks, the winter breaks, spring breaks, and summer, and also Saturdays,” Simon said. “With that recommendation, they would like to also ask that stipends be provided for teachers to participate in content knowledge professional learning.”

The content knowledge institutes and training would cultivate deeper learning for teachers and students. 

The recommendations related to content knowledge include training that would cover diverse topics. Some suggestions included recommendations on experts who could provide content on various topic areas, such as class, race and poverty and Asian American studies. 

By participating in the training, teachers would be able to share knowledge and strategies in their schools. The committee also recommended that arrangements be made for substitute teachers to cover classrooms and that the district promote social studies opportunities to submit proposals to present at conferences.  

The recommended timeline for reviewing the curriculum involves evaluating the program in 2022-2023. Next school year would be a planning year. Professional learning would happen in 2024-2025, and a new social studies curriculum would be implemented in 2025-2026. 

CSD has been working to decolonize its social studies curriculum, and the district would take a deep dive into defining decolonization during the planning stage. 

“Here at CSD, we’ve been defining it as the process of challenging and transforming the colonial influences and structures that exist within educational systems by recognizing and addressing the legacies of colonization, imperialism, and Eurocentrism that have shaped educational curricula, pedagogies, and institutional practices,” Simon said. 

Decolonization focuses on rethinking, reframing and reconstructing the current curriculum, she added. 

Decolonization in CSD would look like connecting the work to the courageous conversations about race protocol and the Do 4 culturally responsive educator framework. Conversations would also begin with the district math and science committees, and the district would unpack the standards with English language arts and social studies teachers at the middle and high schools. 

CSD has also done a comprehensive evaluation of its science program. The district science team was made up of members of the teaching and learning, and equity departments, school coaches, and K-12 science teachers.

“Our goal for the evaluation was to design and develop a clear and coherent program overview, including program goals and objectives, indicators of success, program attributes, a review of current research and practices, curriculum and instruction review, identified grade level standards and outcomes, and professional learning goals and opportunities,” said Jennifer Dunn, director of science and math. 

The recommendations from the committee are broken down by elementary, middle, and high school levels. 

For K-5, the committee recommended building time into the schedule to consistently teach science in all K-5 schools. 

For kindergarten through eighth grade, it’s recommended that CSD adopt and implement curriculum and instructional materials that incorporate real-world concerns, provide multiple entry points and are mentally stimulating for students, Dunn said. 

The other recommendation for grades sixth through eighth is to continue to “explore all eighth-grade students taking high school physical science in eighth grade and getting a high school credit” Dunn said.

“Then our recommendation for 9-12 is to continue to seek and implement high-leverage ways of providing equitable access to student pathways, make sure all stakeholders are aware of the possible science pathways, gather student interest data and assess staffing capability to offer additional senior science courses, and explore options for cost-effective and manageable differentiation for some students to have access to advanced physics before they get into ninth grade,” Dunn said. 

The team provided some recommendations across all grade bands, as well, which include providing time for professional development opportunities for teachers, establishing partnerships with organizations to provide opportunities for real-world science experiences, and building foundational skills in STEM and computer science standards. 

In other businesses, the school board will review the district’s mission and vision statements and the portrait of a CSD scholar. The board will also discuss social studies and science updates.

As CSD developed its strategic plan, Superintendent Dr. Maggie Fehrman included reviewing the school system’s mission and vision statements and creating a portrait of a scholar, according to the executive summary attached to the agenda. Fehrman contracted with Leader Bubble, LLC., to lead the process.

The proposed updated vision statement is, “We strive to cultivate an educational foundation that empowers students to realize their full potential, thrive as productive global citizens, ignite positive change, and create a more just and equitable world.”

The recommended updated mission statement is, “In partnership with our community, our mission is to inspire and enable student growth through meaningful and engaging learning experiences supported by highly qualified and caring educators in a safe and inviting environment.”

A portrait of a graduate lays out the skills a school district believes its students should exemplify by graduation, according to the executive summary. The portrait of a CSD scholar includes characteristics and skills including being a creative critical thinker, a collaborator, a global citizen, resilient, an equity advocate and a leader.

A look at the description of each characteristic of City Schools of Decatur’s portrait of a scholar. Photo courtesy of CSD.

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