Election Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange

Smith: Equity Means Believing Each Child Has the Capacity to be Successful

To the Editors:

There has been a lot of discussion around equity in our district, but it is important to identify what we mean by “equity.” I define equity as believing that each child has the capacity to be successful, ensuring that we empower our student learners and provide them with what they need to succeed. This includes a rigorous curriculum, effective supports, a climate that supports learning and adults who create that climate. This is why I voted for the development and passage of the Access  & Equity Policy and a Strategic Plan focused on meeting the needs of individual learners, at the pace and depth of learning that is right for them.

Donna Smith

I recognize that implementation of the Access & Equity Policy has been rough and that we have issues remaining that must be addressed, including providing the most flexibility for students to be able to move up or down levels and figuring out why, for some courses, African American students have not leveled up. We need to examine how to maximize the role and impact of guidance and teaching staff assist students in course selection, focusing particularly in the transition years from 5th to 6th and from 8th to 9th.  We also have to look at the possibility of eliminating Level 2 classes across the board, since they are proven to be a path to nowhere.  We need to ensure our curriculum in grades K-8 is engaging and rigorous enough to truly prepare students to take on the challenges of college preparatory coursework.  Most importantly, we need to ensure we have the operational excellence to enable all of this hard work.

We also need to come together as a community, focused on how this district is going to move forward to ensure that every child is properly prepared in our K-12 system for college, career and a strong future.  The future of learning and teaching, as laid out in the district’s Strategic Direction, is designed to provide every child with the challenge and supports required to be successful.  This will be enabled by individual pathways supported by an array of choices for educational programming, teachers who are specifically trained to provide instruction to a range of student needs and pacing, whole child social/emotional supports and collaboration between the district, teachers, parents and students as stakeholders in every child’s educational pathway. In the future state of how we deliver teaching and learning in our district, I believe there is space for levels as a means of choice, not as a gate that denies students access to a rich curriculum.

The District has started implementing portions of the Strategic Plan and will continue to roll it out over the next few years. There are multiple pilots in place testing out the waters on homogenous classrooms, programs to better engage parents as partners and whole child supports. These pilots must be monitored carefully for learnings.  This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for our District and I look forward to overseeing its development in the coming years.

Donna Smith

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