Kalimah Salahuddin and Hector Camacho

In the midst of responding to a global pandemic that has had a devastating impact on communities of color with disproportionately higher rates of positive COVID-19 cases and job loss, reality chooses to dig in: We live in a fundamentally racist society.

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the continued killing of Black Americans, have brought people to the streets calling for an end to the systemic inequity and oppression that has persisted for more than 400 years. The time for a reckoning is now.

Schools and education leaders play a critical role in disrupting systems of oppression, a journey that starts with taking the active and intentional steps to become anti-racist. For years, education leaders have attended workshops and seminars aimed at closing the “achievement gap,” looking for something to “fix.” Many of these meetings only served to center whiteness and white voices, unsurprising given the demographic makeup of those in power at all levels of government and leadership in San Mateo County. Participants left feeling better about themselves and their “passion” to fix things, but with no actionable items or tools to help dismantle a system that was built to ensure these inequitable outcomes. 

Two important points frame this conversation: First, the current educational system was never designed to be equitable. What we see today in schools is the result of a system built to maintain a particular balance of power. Second, there is a stark difference between equality and equity. Equity is not giving all students the same thing. It is ensuring that all students have equitable access to resources to thrive. Equitable access needs to be reflected in every facet of our educational system, including budget, staffing, resource allocation and many other spaces. More resources need to be directed toward marginalized students and communities. These decisions must be made and these changes must be enacted to ensure all of our students have access to the resources they need to eventually contribute effectively to our society.

The path to true equity must start with the educational leaders themselves. The San Mateo County School Boards Association took the bold step of launching the Equity Network, a collaboration of school board members and their executive leadership teams working together to make lasting change to our education system for the benefit of students.

“We cannot close the educational gaps that we see in our schools if we don’t close the one in our minds first,” said Nicole Anderson, an educational equity expert and facilitator of the Equity Network.

Thirteen districts took up that challenge: Bayshore Elementary, Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary, Burlingame Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Jefferson Union High, Menlo Park City, Pacifica, Redwood City Elementary, San Mateo-Foster City Elementary, San Mateo Union High, Sequoia Union High and South San Francisco Unified school districts and the San Mateo County Office of Education.

And while COVID-19 paused our in-person efforts and redirected energy to equitable online teaching and learning, the work continues. The time for change is now. A global pandemic and global protests in response to the murders of Black Americans, something many school leaders in the county are now much more aware of because of their participation in the Equity Network.

“This difficult moment provides an opportunity for us to be bold in addressing long-standing racial inequities,” said Davina Drabkin, trustee on the Burlingame Elementary School District board, highlighting that the current design of the education system continues to oppress marginalized students.

Holding up the current flawed system prevents a redesign that works equitably for all students. We must reflect on our current practices. What are our hiring practices? Are district and school staff demographically reflective of the student body? If not, how are districts preparing staff to work with these students and communities? Is the curriculum reflective of the student population and anti-oppressive? Why have we not taken these first basic steps to creating a culturally-reflective school environment that challenges an oppressive system? As Kevin Skelly, San Mateo Union High School District superintendent, put it, “the SMCSBA Equity Network was an opportunity to ‘eat our own cooking’ and demonstrate that we are committed to this work beyond just asking others to do it.”

This is only the beginning of the journey to correct the inequities embedded in our educational systems in San Mateo County but this many districts joining together united in purpose is a powerful first step toward that goal. This is not the sole responsibility of school districts and school boards; this is work that needs to be embraced by the district community by supporting the necessary changes to policy and practice. Join us on this journey.

Kalimah Salahuddin is the president of the Jefferson Union High School District. Hector Camacho is the president of the San Mateo County Board of Education. Both are SMCSBA Equity Network coordinators.

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(11) comments

Dirk van Ulden

No matter what these board members espouse, we need to realize that the school system has become an employment agency with education as a byproduct. If one goes to the various school district websites one can see that most of the salary budget goes to administrators who, of course, keep on telling us about inequity and how the system is rigged against non-whites. I am the beneficiary of post high school education in this country under the GI Bill. I recall that as far back as the 1970s I heard the same cries; racism, prejudice, shame, etc. First at City College of San Francisco and at UC Berkeley thereafter. Meanwhile, students with determination, motivation, and likely with parent support, went on, ignored the protesting screamers and made something of themselves. Like me, they are probably wondering what happened to those who decided to blame everyone but themselves. Those who decided to stay behind are the ones who made BLM happen. These marginal board members are just egging them on.

Mike Dunham

For anyone else who happens to be visiting these comments, the fact that someone like Dirk here -- who benefited from the GI Bill! -- also doesn't see how the system is structurally biased, is the perfect evidence for why our schools need to embrace equity and teaching anti-racism.

Dirk van Ulden

Explain please why benefiting from the GI Bill is structurally biased? I was drafted like many others and then took advantage of that benefit. I had to do something for it first. Many draftees decided no to use it, their choice and have to live with the consequences.

John Baker

You can make stuff up Dirk, but that doesn't make it true. Take your claim of administrators taking up most of the budget. It's easily disproved by looking at the budgets -- just as you suggested. Here's SSFUSD (Mr. Camacho's home area), for example: $4.6 million of $37 million in certificated salaries (page 7): http://ssfusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1500178971544/1535349802584/5039881913766935307.pdf

Here's Jefferson Union High (Ms. Salahuddin's district): $2.7 million out of $16.5 million (also page 7): https://www.juhsd.net/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=3975&dataid=6168&FileName=Complete%2020-21%20Budget%20Packet%20w%20cover.pdf

Dirk van Ulden

John - I know what I am talking about. Many certificated staff are not teaching but act as administrators. Your figures are at best misleading.


Well said Chris.......

Plus, these authors, funded by taxpayers, and part of the destruction attempts of our Nation, communities, schools....and lives. We have allowed them to get a foothold, with their debunked allegations, assumptions, demands, untrue "facts" and inept leadership........ Now we are stuck with a huge task of weeding out this cancer. Enough !

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

While I am sympathetic to the authors' mission, I am disappointed that the OpEd just recited common platitudes: 1) "the current educational system was never designed to be equitable" and 2) "there is a stark difference between equality and equity"  These are two memes that often substitute for substantive analysis and action. The authors fail to list those changes they wish to see to remedy systemic inequity, nor do they indicate the differential treatment desired for minoritized students to achieve social justice. 

Karl Marx may have said it best when differentiating equality from equity, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Sounds nice; hard to implement in a racist, capitalist society.

Finally, the authors' state, "The path to true equity must start with the educational leaders themselves." Not necessarily so. I worked for a short time at Skyline College where the former President was an advocate of critical race theory. In my job, I began to document data indicating a lack of success with Black and Hispanic students over two decades of her reign, in contrast to progress made by White and Asian students. The President's Cabinet was primarily Black and Hispanic leaders; I was the lone white, Jewish, heterosexual, cisgendered male. For providing an analysis which contradicted the institution's narrative, I was characterized as having a White Savior Complex.

As the Who sang in the song We Won't Get Fooled Again, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." For me, it was off with his head!

Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and SMCCCD. He can be reached at mreiner32205@gmail.com

Christopher Conway

Sad to think that these two individuals are in charge of public education. Giving the amount taxpayers spend on education, you would hope that educators might be thankful. If we spent education dollars on the classroom instead of administrative positions like these two authors have, we might have more money for the students they are concerned with. There are no inequities in our schools, there are inequities in parenting, cut administrative personnel in public education and give that money to teachers who are on the front line. By the way, another example why you should say no to any tax increases.


Christopher, as long as you are not talking politics you actually have a few good points. I have for a long long time advocated that teachers pay should be inverse to the grade they teach. The highest salaries should go to the lowest grades and the lower salaries to the higher grades. Too many parents expect the teachers to teach their kids "everything" along with the regular school subjects. Drop them off at 8 AM and pick them up at 3 PM all taught, trained and ready to go. If they don't have good reading and writing skills by the time they get to Jr. High or High school a higher paid teacher is not going to help.

Christopher Conway

your an anonymous twit who called me a racist, I have nothing to say to fools like you.


If the shoe fits....If you are not a racist you support racism by supporting Trump.

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