At the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school district’s convocation last month, Pedro Noguera stood before scores of teachers and staffers and delivered a captivating, impassioned speech about closing the achievement gap.
He talked about addressing students’ needs beyond the classroom, boosting accountability among educators, improving parent engagement and strengthening community relationships.
“You’ve got lots of goodwill, lots of creativity, lots of talent,” he told the near-capacity crowd at Barnum Hall on the campus of Santa Monica High School. “It’s about sharing responsibility. It’s when we have shared responsibility that we get movement.”
It had already been determined that Noguera, a renowned sociologist and educator, would receive up to $110,000 from the district for his work as a consultant through the end of the calendar year.
But the consent calendar reviewed by the Board of Education at its regular meeting Wednesday night revealed that $10,000 of the aforementioned sum was designated for Noguera’s role as keynote speaker at the district convocation.
District spokeswoman Gail Pinsker noted that the money was not just for the morning speech. Noguera spent the rest of the day leading workshops for teachers and administrators and meeting with school board members, she said.
The $10,000 also covered lodging, transportation and meal costs, according to the contract, a copy of which was reviewed by the Daily Press.
SMMUSD officials have stressed that Noguera, who was recently appointed to the UCLA education faculty after a stint at New York University, has worked with schools across the country to address the needs of low-income and minority students and improve race relations.
And they have anxiously awaited his arrival.
Over the past two decades, none of the district’s efforts “have produced significant or sustainable improvements in academic outcomes for African American and Latino students in the school district,” reads a proposal that outlines Noguera’s scope of work.
Noguera and three assistants are tasked with interviewing stakeholders about previous equity efforts, reviewing documents related to past and current strategies, visiting classrooms “to assess the culture of each school” and conducting focus groups with faculty members, parents and students.
A plan with recommendations for how to address disparities will be presented to the school board in January.
The proposal estimates that the work of Noguera’s team will cost the district $90,700.
Many locals have expressed support for the district’s forthcoming partnership with Noguera, although several have criticized the contract.
One Santa Monica resident, Gary Clouse, called the allocated $110,000 an exorbitant amount, especially considering Noguera is working concurrently at UCLA.
Debra Shepherd, a former chair of the district’s advisory committee on special education, questioned the ability of a consultant to improve race relations.
“I’m unsure about how anything is going to change until there is an ability to have honest conversations about what really happens in the District,” she wrote. “All the professional development in the world will not change the attitudes of people who have disdain for people of color.”
The district’s collaboration with Noguera comes as racial tensions flare locally and across the country. This past spring, an SMMUSD middle school student was suspended after calling a cafeteria worker a racial slur, according to a quarterly district report on “hate-motivated behavior.”