During the past year, the topics of social justice, equity, and unity have permeated our society. Incidents of injustice and violence have been vicariously witnessed by students as they watch the news or visit social media. As an educational institution, we have the responsibility to provide students with lessons and activities that address the topics while modeling and instilling the traits of character education.
I can assure you that teaching respect, inclusion, and kindness have always been a part of our school culture. Age appropriate lessons about the impact and horrors of racism are also part of our curriculum. This year, at Lincoln School, on Read Across America Day, I read a book chosen by the teacher based on lessons going on in her class. It was Malala’s Magic Pencil. It is a non-traditional biography, celebrating women’s history, and focusing on a struggle of a Pakistani girl to overcome prejudice. That is an example of what goes on in school.
I have been in this community for five decades and we have always been a community that has embraced diversity and strives for equity. The safety of students and staff—whether it be from a virus, a physical threat or a verbal taunt is our primary concern and responsibility. The student code of conduct and policy on Harassment, Bullying and Intimidation address how to deal with any student who violates policy or conduct. I can tell you that these violations are very, very rare and are always dealt with. A variety of consequences and interventions can be utilized including counseling, restorative practice, and measures like detention or suspension when age or case appropriate.
As you will see in the District goal below, each school has an Equity Committee and there is District wide committee. The building committees meet monthly or more often, The District committee meets quarterly.
We invited members of the Rutherford Anti-Racism Initiative to the March District Equity Committee. meeting. We are partnering with them by having members of the committee join their group. This partnership will allow for more community collaboration.
Copied below is the mid-term goal report which was submitted to the Board of Education in February. The report details activity through January, and there has been continuing and increasing programs in our schools.
- To promote solidarity within the school community and the Borough, the superintendent will work with building administrators to create building-level committees, consisting of various stakeholders, geared specifically toward diversity to develop strategies to ensure equity, to promote critical thinking, and to empower student voice. Each school committee will meet a minimum of three times throughout the school year to develop programs and activities in line with this vision. Additionally, the superintendent will form a district committee consisting of members of each school’s committee, which will meet quarterly. There will be a minimum of one district-wide professional development program, two professional development programs per building, two student programs per building, and one Parent Academy program focusing on topics involving equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Committees have been formed in each building. A District committee, chaired by the superintendent, with representatives from each building has also been formed. At the building level, the committees meet a minimum of once a month. The District committee has met twice with two more meetings scheduled
Starting in January, district-wide equity committee members have agreed on an ongoing monthly in-house professional development geared towards equity. Topics include: Addressing Sensitive or Controversial Topics in the Classroom; LGBTQ Culture, Breaking Down Equity and Diversity Standards, Understanding Learning Styles, Character Building Exercises. These programs are done district-wide at faculty meetings and PLC meetings.
Mr. Hurley met in November with members of the Rutherford Anti-Racism Initiative (RARI). A member of the group has been invited to meet with the District Committee.
Here are some of the activities that have been happening at the schools.
The “Hear our Voices” program was created to provide a virtual platform for students to voice their opinions on topics related to racial injustice, racial narratives, equity, current legislation surrounding individual rights and critical discussions based on contemporary literature and media.
A school wide professional development program was developed in October that highlighted the following areas:
- Introduce the importance and objectives of the equity committee (short and long-term)
- Develop a common language among staff as to the various ways equity can be defined
- Encourage staff to examine their own beliefs regarding equity and engage with team-building exercises geared towards absorbing student opinion
- Provide references and resources that showcase best practices and standards-based curriculum focused on tolerance and equity across all disciplines
- Survey staff for their needs in regard to providing equity within a class and reinforce the present support they have within the building
Created a school committee that consisted of various stakeholders geared specifically toward diversity. The committee has had four meetings since September to develop strategies to ensure equity, promote critical thinking, and empower student voice. The committee reviewed the following KEY FINDINGS in Educational Equity from Hanover Research.
Teachers can ensure that students of all backgrounds receive equitable instruction by acknowledging students’ cultural heritage and accommodating multiple modes of learning.
Schools can create welcoming environments for diverse families by showcasing student diversity and offering parent education activities.
Schools can engage hard-to-reach families by communicating in their home language, meeting them in their own communities, and taking steps to make family participation easier.
Experts find that some types of parent engagement programs are more impactful on student learning than others.
Educators can support high-mobility students by ensuring timely transfer of records, creating welcome packets for new families, and taking steps to ensure that new students feel welcome at their new school.
Districts can promote equitable discipline by implementing tiered disciplinary policies.
*Experts recommend that schools use scores on standards-based tests administered to all students as part of the process to identify students who are likely to succeed in advanced courses. Prerequisite courses, minimum grade point averages, and teacher or counselor recommendations may all serve as barriers to enrolling underrepresented students with potential to succeed in advanced courses. Once students are identified as high-potential, schools must communicate the benefits of participation in these programs to students and their families. This is especially important for students from underrepresented groups who may be otherwise unaware of the programs available. Districts use a variety of strategies to engage underrepresented groups in these discussions, such as sending information home in multiple languages, providing transportation and food for evening information sessions, and following up with families who are unable to attend information sessions.
The committee is currently working on developing and identifying goals that evolve around the ideology that equity seeks to help students leverage their unique identity to further their learning. The committee has created an Equity folder in the HUB.
The committee has developed one professional development activity for the staff in October. The professional development day consisted of having the staff review a video on Equity. PLCs were instructed to meet in order to review, discuss and analyze Equity and Diversity Standards that are applicable to their subject matter. The Equity Standards Template was submitted to the administration. The committee will develop another professional development for staff in May.
- Some staff members participated in a monthly SEL based on equity. The PLC has established a Google Classroom to share relevant articles, lesson ideas, etc. with the entire staff
- Resources have been purchased to establish a professional library related to equity.
- Sharon McCarthy, a consultant. conducted a full faculty professional development workshop in October.
- Lesson plans highlight equity-based classroom lessons
- One bulletin board per month has been designated to focus on equity.
Lincoln and K-Center
The school formed a committee and selected a representative for the district committee. The committee met to review the strategic plan. We had one PLC presentation with information turn-keyed by a teacher who attended a workshop by Dr. Kemp. Teachers took the Harvard Implicit Bias assessment. We ordered more diverse books for the library based on a presentation on diversity in reading materials attended by administration. We have included more examples in newsletters from people of color. We had the SAC address tolerance and diversity in classroom lessons. Teachers have been mindful of being more inclusive in representation of materials, in content and in lessons.
The goal was explained to staff at the opening faculty meeting on September 2, 2020. The administrator outlined key areas of focus for analysis and research: Model checklist of equitable classroom practices, Increasing classroom engagement for all learners, Diversity-based literacy, Increasing family engagement and communications – sensitivity to culturally diverse families, Schoolwide practices that promote and ensure a safe and supportive environment for all learners – Character Ed; HIB, Investigation of Restorative Discipline programs, and the formation of an Equity PLC to lead our research, present findings, and make recommendations.
The Equity PLC was formed with representatives from each grade level and a Specials teacher. The PLC is chaired by Grade 3 teacher Denys Gardeazabal who serves on the newly formed district Educational Equity Committee. The administrator provided the members with a few documents including Best Practices in Educational Equity produced by Hanover Research, 2017 and Six Goals of Educational Equity developed by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Members of the PLC conducted research as part of their Professional Development responsibilities during PD Day October 12. The PLC came upon a definition that stressed an environment of equality that emphasized equitable resources for all students. They explored/are exploring practices and techniques to incorporate into daily planning including valuing diversity, having capacity for cultural self-assessment, understanding the dynamics of cultural interactions, and institutionalizing cultural knowledge. They explored/are exploring positive disciplinary practices. They gathered/are gathering information on engaging culturally diverse families and creating parent-engagement programs. They researched practices for ensuring equity in online learning. They shared their collective research in a Google doc.
The PLC met again in November. The PLC began putting their research into a Google Slideshow. They created a link for Classroom Equity Checklists with the following headings: Learning Environment, Providing Feedback, and Engagement Strategies.
The office staff and the PLC have become more cognizant of translating communications for bilingual and non-English speaking families. The PLC is working on a family survey to more readily assess the needs of parents and students. We have also added many books on diversity to our school library/media center and our classroom libraries with more planned to come. Discipline referrals and issues, while never very high in past years, are down and have been very minimal. We have incorporated a counseling (restorative) component frequently into the discipline issues that we have had.
At this juncture, many of the component areas in our equity goal have been addressed to varying degrees. Additional PLC meetings/research days are planned for early February with the goal of providing research/materials to staff along with a slide presentation.