LET'S GET REAL NEWSLETTER

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EQUITY FOR ALL IN THE NEEDHAM PUBLIC SCHOOLS

There is no place for bigotry, racism, homophobia, or hate in the classrooms of the Needham Public Schools. All students and staff, regardless of race, color, sex, homeless status, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, or immigration status, have dignity and are valued and contributing members of our learning community.

 

Can we ensure our instruction is engaging and our schools safe for each child and free of bias, bullying, and hurtful acts that demean and diminish? Can we address racial equity? Can we move the needle on performance for those students who have historically not achieved at levels commensurate with many of their peers? With energy, hope, and a deep belief in the promise and possibility of each one of our young people, the district's REAL Coalition (Race, Equity, Access, Leadership) is committed to working with the School Committee, staff, parents, community members, and especially students, to build on our assets and tackle the challenges of ensuring racial equity and equity for all.

 

The REAL Coalition is guided by the Steering Committee members listed below. We are here for you. We will reach out to you to highlight progress on equity actions and respond to your requests for information and support. Together, Let's get REAL.

Alex McNeil, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources
Andrea Vargas, Assistant Principal, Newman
Brooke Kessel, K-8 Chair, Social Studies Department
Bryant Tow, Speech Pathologist, Eliot
Dan Gutekanst, Superintendent
Diane Simmons, Director, Strategic Planning
Jamie Singelais, Director, English Language Learners
Janeen Crawford, Elementary Coordinator, METCO
Joanne Allen-Willoughby, Director, METCO
Karen Bourn, Principal, Eliot
Keith Ford, Assistant Principal, Needham High
Leslie Smart, Assistant Director, METCO
Maggie Charron, Assistant Principal, High Rock
Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent, Student Support
Rebecca Sparrell, Director, Preschool
Steve Plasko, 9-12 Chair, Social Studies Department
Terrry Duggan, Assistant Superintendent, Student Learning
Tom Denton, Director, Guidance

 

THE REAL PLAN (Race, Equity, Access, Leadership)

The members of the REAL Coalition have a sense of urgency to address issues raised in the District's 2018 Equity Audit and therefore we developed goals in six areas.

 

1.     Policies and Practices in support of equity

2.     Curriculum and Instruction in support of equity

3.     Professional Learning in support of equity

4.     Hiring and Employment Practices in support of equity

5.     Culture and Climate in support of equity

6.     Communications and Community Engagement

 

As we take steps to ensure that our Policies and Practices are supporting all our students, for example, the Superintendent provided to principals and school administrators a protocol for responding to acts of bias and hate crimes in the Needham Public Schools. This protocol outlines specific steps to ensure safety, investigate, communicate, involve others, support impacted or marginalized students and staff, and promote healing. The district shares essential and appropriate information, updates, and resources without amplifying the biased and hateful voices or actions of those who violate school rules, school norms, commit crimes, or jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of members of the school community.

 

To make progress on ensuring our students receive culturally responsive Curriculum and Instruction, the district already took 2 big steps toward that goal, with more work to come:

·      Implemented a K-5 Racial Literacy Curriculum

·      Developed a Roadmap for Becoming A Culturally Responsive Educator providing teachers and leaders with a framework and a common set of questions and resources to guide our equity work.

 

To enhance our Professional Learning so that it provides staff with the knowledge, strategies, and tools to support all our students and their families, the district is investing in PD Days, workshops, and building-based training on culturally responsive teaching, inclusive practices, antiracist universal design for learning, among other topics. The REAL Coalition recognizes that the district needs to create a model of PD that is sustainable and impactful, is linked to evaluation, and addresses the learning needs of all employees. How else will we directly overcome implicit and explicit bias and empower staff to engage consistently in difficult conversations about race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, language proficiency, and other matters of diversity?

 

The professional learning resources in support of equity have expanded considerably over the past year for our staff, including the new NPS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website. It includes a link for teachers to add ideas for resources and exemplar lessons. Staff are turning to these kinds of resources when grappling with issues of bias and hate in our nation, when standing united with our community members of color, and when we want to be more intentionally proactive with our professional learning opportunities.

 

To ensure that our Hiring and Employment Practices are equitable for all, the Human Resources department is formalizing plans and structures for recruitment and retention of diverse and qualified staff. The current number of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) staff is 65 FTE. We believe we will make further progress as we continue to implement three important strategies: participate in the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education, provide the Hiring for Equity training sessions we developed specifically for our district, and fully utilize our internal database of diverse candidates. In the past two years, we recruited 28 BIPOC teachers and teaching assistants plus 9 BIPOC staff working for Nutrition Services and Transportation, as well as substitutes.

 

The Town and the district's BIPOC staff are meeting together regularly to discuss issues as they arise in the workplace, community, and the country. Along with providing mentors, this is how we are creating a safe space where staff can share experiences and develop opportunities that we hope will lead to greater staff satisfaction and retention.

 

“We can flip a conversation about race from something antagonistic and uncomfortable to something productive; with listening and sharing, we can change the culture.”

 

The above quote from a student in the yearlong high school course for juniors and seniors, Courageous Conversations on Race (CCOR), is an example of progress on Culture and Climate. Students apply what they learn about how racism operates on a systemic level, both in society and in our schools, to design an interactive workshop for 9th graders. The CCOR students model how to be an upstander and demonstrate to their peers different strategies to use when they recognize a racist remark or action. According to the CCOR students, at first the 9th graders were reluctant to speak but then they shared; and the 9th grade students of color were really surprised and appreciative that finally race was being discussed.

 

CCOR is an outstanding example of student-led efforts to build a healthy, inclusive culture and climate in the Needham Public Schools.

 

REAL COMMUNICATIONS (Race, Equity, Access, Leadership)

What is the REAL story?

·      The district is making progress on a coordinated and thoughtful plan to address racial equity and equity for all in the Needham Public Schools.

·      This work is aligned with the Portrait of A Needham Graduate, the district's five year strategic plan.

·      Although our work is never easy, we will keep going forward with a systematic approach to address our district-wide equity efforts and challenges.

·      The district's Equity website is the communications hub where we capture all of our efforts across the district. It's our way of saying that equity lives here & is going to live here for the very long-term.

 

How do we maintain momentum for the REAL story and keep the messaging alive? We rely on the Superintendent's emails and blogs, videos on equity issues, social media posts, information sent home in school newsletters, and an annual Performance Report mailed to all households and businesses, among many other communications. The REAL Coalition is looking at all of our communications vehicles and the opportunities to increase awareness about the equity plan going forward.

 

Communications about race and about understanding differences are often uncomfortable. Within our schools, conversations are becoming more frequent and range from one-on-one meetings to classroom talks, community forums, and school and districtwide professional development. Is that enough?

 

We welcome your voice and participation. Reach out to the REAL Steering Committee whenever you're observing or wondering about a REAL issue -- regarding Race, Equity, Access, or Leadership. In the meantime, we'll send out issues of "Let's get REAL" at regular intervals in order to keep you apprised and remind you that the REAL Coalition Steering Committee is here for you. 

 

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