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January Message from the SRCS Superintendent: Reflections on Equity
Posted 1/14/20

Last month, San Pedro Elementary School staff arrived at school early in the morning to find a "Got English?" sign (pictured to the right) had been put over their school marquee facing the street. San Pedro has an enrollment of 522 students: 98% are Hispanic, 85% are English learners, 85% are socioeconomically disadvantaged and 24% are homeless. Almost all of San Pedro's students are bussed to the school from San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. San Pedro mirrors the racial segregation that is apparent in almost every elementary school in our district. Over the past six months, as I've met with people and listened to a wide variety of concerns and issues in our schools, segregation almost always arises as a major concern.

Of course, the issue of segregation is prevalent not only in San Rafael and Marin, but also in our state and our nation. It is a very difficult subject to address, and little progress has been made to solve this complex problem. I am very proud that here in San Rafael City Schools, we have been willing to address this issue, along with other equity issues, head on. Last year, the District undertook an equity audit of our high schools conducted by Education Trust West, which is a research and equity-driven organization focused on promoting equity in our school system. You can read their full report here, which includes an executive summary. 

This year, we have convened a task force to look at their findings and to develop a "blueprint for action," and we will present their recommendations to our Together 2023 Advisory Group as we build our three-year strategic plan, which will ultimately be presented to the Board of Education for approval. One of the elements of the plan will include recommendations for how we can begin to address the issue of segregation in our schools, such as looking at school boundaries, bussing and school programs. We invite parents, students and community members to participate in this process, which can be seen here.

We are making steady progress with our Together 2023 planning. Thanks to extensive feedback from our community, we have identified three core values that define what we believe in for our District: equity, community and joy. I hope these core values resonate with you; I know they inspire me to want to work hard to make sure we are demonstrating these values every day. Equity has been a core value in SRCS for a long time, and much work has been done to ensure that our schools are working for all of our students. In the past, we have worked with the National Equity Project and with the Pacific Education Group to hold "courageous conversations" about race and participated in numerous trainings and discussions about the impact of race on the opportunity gap. Currently, our school and District administrators are working together to develop plans to address racial bias in ourselves and in our schools so that we can do a better job of making sure all of our students are learning and growing at high rates. This semester, we will also train a cadre of student leaders to be strong advocates and give them increased voice through a program called SOAR: Students Organized Against Racism.

Which brings me back to the incident at San Pedro I raised at the beginning of this communication. Ignoring the racist implications of the sign for the moment, let's discuss the numerous advantages of being bilingual. If I had a magic wand and had one wish, I would wish that every single one of our students had the tremendous economic and social advantage of being bilingual upon graduation. Not only is there ample research about the positive impact on the development of the brain of learning two languages at a young age, but there are certainly a plethora of compelling reasons to know more than one language. In our global and interconnected world, the ability to communicate with others in their language opens up many doors, not the least of which is to directly learn from others with a different perspective. Furthermore, the world is hungry for multi-lingual speakers, not only in the field of education but in all fields, including business, the military and the social sciences. It is a competitive advantage that I wish all of our students will obtain. Not only do I want all of our native Spanish speakers to learn English, I want all of our native English speakers to learn Spanish (or other languages) as well-this benefits every single one of us. Towards this end, planning has been underway to open another dual immersion program in SRCS in the near future and I can't wait for us to begin this adventure! 

In this New Year, I encourage us to embrace our differences. Let's celebrate all the cultures - the customs, traditions and languages - that make us such a rich and diverse country, one that has always included immigrants in our community and understood that they have so much to offer all of us. San Rafael is a microcosm of the changing demographics in the county, state and nation, and we can lead the way towards equity, community and, yes, joy, if we open our hearts and minds to accept and support all of the children in every one of our schools in our amazing school district.