A task force formed by the San Mateo-Foster City School District was put in charge of investigating how the district could bring more inclusivity to its community. What they’ve proposed is a long-term strategy requiring more staff and key philosophical changes.
“If we work off just limited perspectives then the work that we do is very limited,” Charlotte Cheng, a member of the task force, said during an April 13 study session. “The task force and why we were formed was to explore how we can expand the cultural responsiveness of not just our students but the staff who works with them.”
The task force was led by Nancy Bui, director of Equity and Inclusion, and included more than 30 certified district staff members and parents. The group held six meetings since being formed last year. Its sole focus was to review, create and recommend districtwide equity strategies inside and outside of the classroom.
The effort was inspired by Goal 2 in the district’s Five-Year Strategic Plan which calls out a need for greater equity in the district, the largest in the county serving 10,500 students across 22 campuses.
Ultimately, the group developed 27 strategies for addressing seven problems or “Statements or Situations In Need of Attention.” The problems included needing more cultural and linguistically responsive curriculum; more anti-bias and anti-racist professional development; needing to address the needs of students from historically marginalized groups, specifically referring to Black and Latino students who appear to be disproportionately disciplined; needing a shared vision that reflects the district’s values and to move away from operating on fear and complacency; and the need for a structured hiring practice focused on recruiting a diverse staff.
The solutions varied. Some were more philosophical like encouraging risk-taking among administrators, embracing vulnerability and cultural humility and creating and promoting a district culture that celebrates assets and strengths over deficiencies. Others required some level of action like developing an Equity Vision and Mission Statement that aligns with the district’s equity goals in the Strategic Plan, inviting teachers to participate in hiring panels and creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department.
But the key recommendation was the need to hire more staff members who can help implement the strategies. The task force recommended hiring eight new teachers on special assignments who would focus on the equity work with two assigned to each middle school.
“We need more people so we can get more voices in rooms so that when we’re checking in on what we’re doing, all the voices get to give that feedback and we can incorporate it as well,” Cheng said. “To me, that’s telling us that it is not a one-person job, it’s not a two-person job. It’s a multi-person job because it’s going to require a lot of work.”
To achieve its goal of successfully implementing culturally inclusive curricula and strategies, the group agreed staff would need to be culturally proficient meaning they’re aware of their own cultural background and difference between them and other groups and have to ability to build on cultural norms. About 73.5% of teachers in the district are white, as of the 2018-19 school year.
Meanwhile, nearly 80% of the district’s students were either Hispanic, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Filipino or Black, according to census data from the 2021-22 school year presented in a report by the task force. About 30% are English language learners and more than 40% of district students qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches, according to the same data.
“Equity needs to be woven into everything that happens in a school and in a district and how that happens is we need the support of people who can coach it, who can teach it on a consistent basis,” said Dr. Arlondo Smith, a longtime educator who helped co-facilitate the task force meetings. “There’s equity in reading, there’s equity in math, there’s equity in science, there’s equity in PE, there’s equity in everything. Again that’s been one of the shortcomings of education — we treat it like it is an add-on rather than as a part of the main meal.”
Trustees largely shared their support for the recommendations and appreciation for the task force’s work while also seeking more detail. Trustee Alison Proctor asked about the day-to-day work of the eight new employees while board President Shara Watkins questioned under which department the operation would live.
Given the workload, board Vice President Ken Chin questioned whether eight new employees would be enough. And it’s also unclear how much funding will be needed to implement the strategies, another area about which Chin asked.
Some of the strategies are already being implemented but it’s unclear to what extent. Trustee Maggie Trinh asked about the frequency with which English language learners are given tests in their native language to which Superintendent Diego Ochoa said the state allows the practice to occur in some cases and teachers have leeway on nonstate administered tests but he’d like to speak with the Educational Services Department before answering fully.
Ochoa said he’d also like to return in the near future with a proposed implementation timeline, noting the district will have to make some tough decisions on which suggestions to move forward with first and which to delay.
“The strategic plan accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. It set us in a clear and powerful direction. The recommendations presented today are part of a process we planned for last year,” Ochoa said. “We’re not going to do it all in one year folks. We’re going to really think about this and analyze it.”
I am concerned this will lead to more administration costs, more bureaucracy, more bloat and less funding available to help students who need it the most. By this time it should be clear to the board that the way to solve for student outcomes is 1-1 teacher/student time and special programs to help close math/reading gap. DEI consultants are not going to do that for the school district. Instead, they will suck up precious school funding dollars.
If taxpayers are expected to spend more money supporting this DEI endeavor, how will DEI folks be judged on whether their endeavor is successful or just another waste of taxpayer money? Will this DEI group fire a number of the 73.5% of white teachers so they can create an “equitable” percentage of other demographics? Will they hire 30% of teachers who are English language learners, and 40% of teachers who qualify for free or reduced fee lunches? Or is there no accountability in adding more union workers and their lifetime pension and benefits costs?
Exactly. 8 new admins minimum. No wonder most of the budget does not go to educating the students.
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