Rutgers Disproportionality & Equity Lab Seeks SOMA District Families for Survey

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The Rutgers Equity & Disproportionality Lab is seeking South Orange-Maplewood School District students in grades 6-12 and their families — particularly students and families of color — to participate in surveys and focus groups over the course of this year.

The effort, led by Dr. Eddie Fergus, Professor Urban Education and Policy at Rutgers University-Newark, stems from the school district’s settlement with the Black Parents Workshop and agreement with the Office for Civil Rights and aims to “understand the nature of equity in the district to make sure that all children are treated fairly and equitably.”

The South Orange-Maplewood School District re-hired Fergus last October to expand on his previous work on tracking and leveling for the district as well as evaluate and provide recommendations to the district’s Comprehensive Equity Plan and Intentional Integration Initiative.

“The District is once again partnering with Dr. Fergus with a focus on expanding his research scope to do a deeper dive evaluation/assessment into tracking and leveling programs at the elementary through high school levels with a focus on underrepresented student groups (race/ethnicity, gender, free/reduced lunch status, etc),” wrote SOMSD Director of Communications Anide Eustache in a response to an email from Village Green last October. “He will also be working on evaluating and providing recommendations to improve the District’s Comprehensive Equity Plan as well as reviewing the District’s Intentional Integration Initiative and providing recommendations on areas for improvement.”

The following letter was sent to families in January 2023 and has been shared with Village Green in an effort to reach more families — particularly families and students of color.

The South Orange Maplewood School District is conducting an equity audit in collaboration with Rutgers University and Dr. Edward Fergus, Professor of Urban Education and Policy. The initiative is to understand the nature of equity in the district to make sure that all children are treated fairly and equitably.

For the upcoming year, the Rutgers research team will continue to gather information and perspectives from parents, community members, school staff, and students in order to outline specific areas of improvement. The culmination of these efforts will support the continued district commitment to integration and equitable outcomes.

To make sure the voice of the entire school community is represented, we are conducting research with students in grades 6 to 12. Those activities include a student survey that is available to all students, and a series of focus groups to hear students’ stories about their experiences in the school.

If you agree that your child can participate in the study activities they will be asked to complete the survey and they will be asked to participate in a focus group. Your child’s participation in the study is voluntary. Your child may refuse to participate or withdraw at any time. Your child can change their mind and leave the study at any time. If your child decides to leave the study, or decides not to participate, it will have no effect on their grades. If you agree that your child can participate in this study, you will be asked to sign a permission form and return the completed form to Dr. Fergus. We will also ask your child to give assent.

According to Dr. Jessica Hochman, Senior Program Administrator at the Rutgers Disproportionality & Equity Lab, those interested in participating in the survey and/or focus groups can email the lab at or contact their middle or high school principals to get access to the signup.

“As you may know, we’re doing this work in support of the efforts outlined in the settlement agreement with the Black Parents Workshop as well as the Office for Civil Rights agreement,” wrote Hochman, who was introduced to Village Green by James Davis of the Black Parents Workshop. “Our report will support the continued district commitment to integration and equitable outcomes, so student voices are absolutely essential.”

Hochman further noted, “We are particularly interested in hearing from students of color about their experiences in the district.” Hochman said that the lab welcomes suggestions of community groups for parents, families, and students of color for the lab to reach out to.

A recent survey performed by the district as part of the Intentional Integration Initiative elicited a low response rate from Black families.

Last fall, Davis contended that the district was not being “up front” with the public in its rehiring of Fergus, saying that the district only did so after the settlement’s monitor pointed out that Fergus had not been able to complete his work.

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