A large swath of the local education community convened to share strategies for closing the achievement gap dividing San Mateo County’s most successful and lowest achieving students.
The San Mateo County Office of Education’s “Zap the Gap” seminar was held Monday, March 12, at the Oracle Corporation campus in Redwood Shores, where hundreds of education professionals met for a day of discussions, presentations and brainstorming sessions.
Reducing suspensions, increasing graduation rates, improving student achievement, supporting student development and aligning curriculum with Common Core were among the initiatives promoted for leveling the playing field for all local students.
The comprehensive suite of approaches is drawn from a report issued at the office’s 10th annual event, highlighting educators at local elementary and high schools which have successfully addressed the issues identified.
Among a panel of local principals, Ralston Middle School Principal Michael Dougherty encouraged his colleagues to be bold in implementing approaches designed to address educational equity.
“Try something new. We’re in a new era at this point, so it’s OK,” said Dougherty, referring to a changing school climate which is more receptive to innovative approaches to improving student achievement.
Dougherty was joined on the panel by Jonas Barbour, of Oceana High School in Pacifica; Sharon Burns, of Encinal Elementary School in Menlo Park; Pam Jasso, of Heather Elementary School in San Carlos; and Simone Rick-Kennel, of Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton.
The administrators spoke to the necessity of collaboration with teachers, parents and students in effectively implementing some of the initiatives designed to improve success.
Jasso said working alongside the school community can be an effective tool for ameliorating the concerns raised by those who may be reticent to embrace new methods.
Barbour too noted the difficulties of appropriately implementing new techniques in the classroom as recommended by district officials, because there may be a disconnect between the classroom and administrative offices. He added the county Office of Education has been a valuable partner in helping his district execute some of the programs identified.
Oceana High School was held up in the report as a model for improving graduation trends, as the school increased its rate by 4.6 percent between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years. The school’s Hispanic/Latino and socioeconomically disadvantaged graduation rates jumped by 7.4 and 11 points respectively over the same time period.
The school was particularly successful in addressing the achievement gap, as its 93.8 percent graduation rate for white students matched its Latino/Hispanic population.
Such an accomplishment is notable in a county where 16 percent of Latino/Hispanic and Pacific Islander students did not graduate last year, according to the county report which also claims 23 percent of black students failed to graduate.
While the issue remains a sizable challenge for local educators, gains are being made, according to a statement from San Mateo County Superintendent Anne Campbell, who noted 80 percent of local districts showed significant improvement in graduation rates for English learners.
“Through the tireless efforts of educators and policy makers, we are gradually making progress in attacking the persistent presence of the opportunity/achievement gap,” she said.
To address the issue, county data analyst Deann Walsh offered a presentation on the support available to districts seeking to improve on their recent round of Smarter Balanced test scores. Keynote speaker Kimberly Papillon presented a detailed examination of the neuroscience behind decision making, and the dangers of implicit bias in education. Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca also shared her perspective regarding the experience of DACA students, or those in school under the federal policy currently under threat.
As collaboration was highlighted as an essential part of educators’ work toward improving success at all local schools, Campbell said she believes more gains are on the horizon.
“By working together, we can identify solutions for policy and practice,” she said.
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