Close to two years after a group of students, teachers, parents and administrators highlighted the ways in which the Palo Alto school district has failed its minority and low-income students and families, the district says it has made "excellent" progress on some of the group's recommendations for how to reverse longstanding trends contributing to the district's achievement gap.
Martha Castellon, the district's new equity coordinator, will present an update on the district's work to boost achievement among low-income and minority students at a special school-board session on Tuesday morning, Jan. 10.
Since her hiring, Castellon has been tasked with overseeing the implementation of 12 high-priority recommendations that the Minority Achievement and Talent Development advisory committee, known as MATD, made in 2015.
The district is now reporting particular progress in the areas of training, communication and some programmatic changes, like launching full-day kindergarten at all Palo Alto elementary schools this fall, according to a presentation Castellon will give Tuesday.
The district is working to train more employees on unconscious bias, an issue the minority-achievement committee identified as underlying many "inequitable practices and processes." Approximately 466 district employees, both certificated and classified staff, will have completed this new training by the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to the district. Close to 1,000 certificated staff will eventually be trained in this area, including teachers, administrators, school counselors and psychologists. And for the first time this year, the district held a session on "equity and access" at its new-teacher orientation.
The district said it worked to increase communication this year with families around policies and practices on academic laning, something the Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee had identified as lacking in the district. The district held math-information nights for parents at all three middle schools at the start of the school year. The district provided Spanish and Mandarin interpreters in person at these meetings and translated information posted online on math laning into those two languages as well.
"Many more" parent meetings have included Spanish and Mandarin translation this year, the report states, from back-to-school nights to principal "coffees."
"While we are not yet offering all of our meetings in all three languages, it is a goal that we are gradually moving toward," Castellon wrote.
Castellon — whose very position was a recommendation from the minority-achievement committee — has also been tasked with creating a more detailed, district-wide "equity plan" to provide a strategic roadmap for this work going forward. MATD members have repeatedly stressed that without such a roadmap — one that has specific timelines, goals and metrics to ensure accountability — efforts to close the achievement gap will fall by the wayside.
A draft equity plan, to be presented Tuesday, shows the district's progress on MATD's initial recommendations, goals for the next two years, the person responsible for that progress and related funding needs, as well as longer-term goals.
Despite the district's progress, many recommendations have yet to come to fruition, from commissioning a longitudinal study to analyze the impact of laning on minority and low-income students and their peers to establishing a district "equity team" to oversee the equity plan.
"Process of change is slow," Castellon's presentation notes. "We have to go slow at first in order to go fast (later)."
The district is currently seeking community feedback on the draft equity plan. The district presented the plan at a community meeting in East Palo Alto in December and will hold two more meetings this month to solicit further public input.
There will be a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Palo Alto High School Library Learning Resource Center. Spanish interpretation, food and child care will be provided.
Another meeting, specifically for African American families, will be held on Friday, Jan. 27, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Jordan Middle School library. Food and child care will also be provided.
People can also provide feedback online, in writing, or in person through Friday, Feb. 3. The district will review the feedback and incorporate it into a final version of the equity plan, to be submitted to the board this spring.
MATD is still an active committee with regular public meetings. A meeting for this Wednesday, Jan. 11, from 6-8 p.m., has been cancelled. View the committee's schedule here.
The Tuesday, Jan. 10, study session will run from 8-10 a.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. The district will also provide an update on its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which spells out how districts plan to spend money to support underrepresented student groups, such as low-income students and foster youth.
View the agenda here.