Throughout the last school year, Pedro Noguera took a long look at the Santa Monica-Malibu school district. The education reformist was hired to help close achievement gaps that have persisted along racial and socioeconomic lines, and he found that equity wasn’t enough of a priority — not just in classrooms, but also at the administrative and decision-making levels.
Noguera has said that other matters have kept SMMUSD from making lasting dents in gaps that have existed for years, so the local Board of Education is ringing in the new school year with a meeting dedicated to the district’s equity work.
“The distractions matter,” Noguera has said. “What is being discussed at the school board level? Is it teaching and learning? Is it equity? Or is it something else?”
In a retreat Wednesday afternoon that doubles as its first official meeting since the start of 2016-17, the school board will discuss how to implement Noguera’s recommendations for the district to make students’ demographic backgrounds less predictive of their academic success.
The board will address the topic alongside interim co-superintendents Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau, who were hired to spearhead SMMUSD on a short-term basis as the district searches for Sandra Lyon’s long-term replacement. A new superintendent is expected to join the district Jan. 1.
“We are fortunate to have both education leaders on board to further our district priorities, including closing the achievement gap,” board president Laurie Lieberman has said.
Rousseau, a former Santa Monica High School principal and longtime administrator in the region, was brought on in part because of her familiarity with the district and in part because of her expertise in diversity in education. During her 39 work days in the district, a number that will help her avoid jeopardizing retirement benefits, she will aim to keep alive the district’s momentum on improving equity.
“We’re looking at ways to take his report and turn it into action,” Rousseau said recently. “That’s where the difficulty is.
“Inequities can become so embedded … that they’re almost imperceptible and invisible. Part of the hard work is, if we’re really to respond to that report, is to look at the systems and structures we have and look at how each entity is contributing to the good of the district but also be open, without malice, that each may be contributing to the inequities as well.”
Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez, who has been on the district’s governing panel for more than 15 years, said it’s time for SMMUSD to implement programs and policies that will lead to sustainable change.
“It wasn’t the decision of this board to say [to the community], ‘We’re going to force you to do this.’ This was just the right thing to do,” she said. “People are going to have to go in their hearts and figure it out: What does it mean to have equity for every single child, for those who have means and those who don’t have means in this district?”
The retreat, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 4 p.m. at district headquarters, 1651 16th St., in Santa Monica. It is the first of four such meetings throughout the school year.