Education reformist Pedro Noguera has said for months that it will take deliberate and coordinated efforts by every department of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district to close the achievement gaps that have persisted along ethnic and socioeconomic lines.
At a well-attended local Board of Education meeting last month at SMMUSD headquarters, officials began unveiling how they’ll contribute to improving equity in a district where they say demographic factors are far too predictive of academic success.
The plans were discussed more than a year after the district’s hiring of Noguera, a professor and renowned sociologist who has been analyzing obstacles to improved outcomes for poor and minority students.
The academic component of the plan is crucial, officials said. Educators and community members stressed the importance of linguistic diversity, saying that teachers must recognize that English learners bring with them not only other language skills but often other cultural backgrounds as well.
The finance department, meanwhile, pledged to build a district budget for 2017-18 that prioritizes the efforts being made to close the achievement gap.
“Now that you’ve really defined it and identified it, it’s really our role,” chief financial officer Jan Maez said. “We want to make sure our use of the resources is in alignment and supporting the path that we’re on. We’re involving all of the people that have been along on this journey.”
Carey Upton, director of the district’s facilities department, said the district should consider how changes in teaching will impact building decisions.
“It was always one person standing in front of a classroom and lecturing,” he said, noting a potential need for tweaks in ceiling construction to improve acoustics. “Now, most of our classes are spent in small groups.”
Tara Brown, the SMMUSD director of student services, will be spearheading anti-bullying efforts by teaching students what to do when they see bullying. Teachers, counselors, office personnel and custodial staffers will also need training.
“We really take it seriously,” she said. “That is one of the goals of student services this year: implement an anti-bullying curriculum.”
Gail Pinsker, who manages communications and public relations for the district, said she’s planning to brainstorm with parent liaisons to improve outreach to families who don’t speak English.
Interim deputy superintendent Mark Kelly said the district’s equity work will require a fresh approach to hiring teachers.
“We’re thinking about them as facilitators, not as sages,” he said. “They have to have the capacity to listen.”
He also said the district should focus on ways to reduce student stress.
Information services director Ruthy Mangle said wireless classrooms comprise only one part of the district’s improvements in technology.
“Our goal is, whatever you can think of, we can support that,” she said. “We need to be a little bit ahead.”
Community members expressed guarded optimism about the district’s plans.
“This beautiful plan — what’s going to happen to it?” parent Robbie Jones said. “I really want to see these things happen.”
Bernice Onofre, a member of the district advisory committee on intercultural equity and excellence, said she was excited about the district’s direction.
“I’m going to have a good sleep,” she said. “Every department came and spoke about how they are going to accomplish this goal.”