The district must provide an excellent education for all our students, and that requires that we strive for full inclusion for all of our students. For far too long, we’ve allowed seemingly neutral, universal policies to add burdens to our most burdened students, with our attendance areas, busing, or class-sizes. It is time for the district to be proactive at addressing equity issues by producing an equity report how the proposed changes would most likely affect our black, brown, low-income, special education and other marginalized students and striving to design a system of education that fully includes and supports all our students. The board must focus on this root problem in addition to addressing concrete equity issues as they arise.
With state funding increases regularly below our annual cost increases, the district has been forced to make substantial budget cuts that have increased class-sizes and cut programming in 2014 and 2019. The board needs to articulate a clear vision that will allow it to determine funding priorities unless state funding improves. The board must be willing to explore creative options in light of that overarching vision, while continue to advocate for increased state funding. Pairing two smaller elementary schools—with one school serving as a K-2 campus and the other serving as a 3-6 campus—could have the dual benefit of bringing class sizes into closer alignment with district average and providing a more balanced population racially and socioeconomically. The district should also evaluate a transition to a middle school model with 6th-8th grades, which carries both academic benefits for the students and financial savings for the district.
Safety begins with providing a safe and secure learning environment for all students. The district has made important advances in improving the safety of our schools with secure entries, air conditioning in all our buildings, and renovations that bring our oldest buildings into compliance with modern ADA standards. The district needs to continue working to reduce the risk of violence—with bullying prevention, establishing procedures to address specific and actionable threats of violence, and providing supports in schools for families and students in need. The district needs a comprehensive threat-assessment policy and training for relevant faculty and staff. This needs to include a consistent procedure for classifying and responding to threats and an outline of what actions to take including contacting mental health professionals and social workers alongside unconscious bias and cultural competency training. It should not include an armed police officer stationed on school grounds. The best available peer-reviewed research shows that school resource officers do not reduce the risk of violence, increase safety, or improve school climate.
Data and Deliberation
The board and administration rightly aim to make “data-driven” decisions. To be effective, the district needs substantial improvement in gathering and using data. Only in the last several years has the district begun to examine student achievement by school, income, race, and other demographic characteristics, but this data does not control for several important variables (time in school, summer education, mobility, etc.) and it doesn’t examine student growth over time. Such data is essential if we are to evaluate the success of the weighted resource allocation model, the effects of redistricting, and so forth. Disciplinary data and referral rates also need to be collected, evaluated, and made available to inform district-level decisions, including the Comprehensive Equity Plan and proposed safety policies. The district should have a dedicated staff member trained in producing high-quality data and analysis who can also serve as a resource for the district as a whole, the administration, and the board.