Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

South Orange-Maplewood Takes an ‘Honest’ Look for State-Mandated Equity Plan, Scores District Non-Compliant on 12 Metrics

Dr. Gayle Carrick, Interim Superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District

On June 13, the Board of Education approved the school district’s three-year Comprehensive Equity Plan — or CEP — that will cover the academic years spanning 2019 through 2022.

The district’s Affirmative Action team that completed plan — a group made up of teachers, administrators and the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee liaison Erin Siders — scored the district differently than for the last CEP covering 2016-2019.

This time, the team scored the district non-compliant on a dozen metrics of out 61, calling the process “honest” and indicating that it would be more productive than past iterations. The 2016-2019 CEP scored the district non-compliant on only one metric.

The new plan was submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education on June 14, 2019, and approved last week.

But, first, what is a Comprehensive Equity Plan?

According to Board Resolution No. 3887: “all New Jersey district and charter schools are mandated to develop a three-year Comprehensive Equity Plan (CEP). The first CEP covered the school years 2004-2007. The responsibility of each board of education is to identify and correct all discriminatory and inequitable policies, programs, practices and conditions within or affecting our schools. NJDOE must ensure that each district/charter school complies with equality and equity requirements of applicable Federal and state laws, and to provide guidelines to accomplish that result.”

Before voting on the resolution, Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gayle Carrick discussed the CEP process. She asked District Business Administrator Paul Roth to repost a slide from the Long Range Facilities Plan.

Carrick noted that the presentation of the LRFP and the CEP on the same evening was very “timely ” as “this document actually correlates well with all of the wonderful things that the South-Orange Maplewood Board of Education is proposing this evening.”

“The facilities in this district are actually the framework where everything happens.”

Carrick said that the CEP was organized around four topics:

  • board responsibility focusing primarily on policies
  • staff development
  • school and classroom practices – focusing on equality and equity on curriculum, student access, guidance and PE
  • Employment and contract services.

While the CEP is developed and submitted every three years, every year between the three-year submissions the district must submit a statement of assurance to the New Jersey Department of Education that indicates that “we are in fact doing what we said we are going to do in this plan,” said Carrick.

The 2019-2022 CEP team for SOMSD

“There are 61 areas in which we must self assess,” said Carrick. “The way we conducted the self assessment is that each principal was tasked with reviewing the document and identifying, with a member of the Affirmative Action team or a member of a their staff in which they have great confidence, in doing a real honest reflection of what the practices look like at their school.”

Carrick also said that the Affirmative Action team was tasked with reviewing the past CEP, “and for each school, particularly at the elementary level, you indicate whether we are in compliance or not in compliance.” Carrick said that each elementary school in the district “to a one” answered “no” to the exact same areas across each elementary school. “Of the 61 areas, we self-assessed that there were 12 areas that required additional work. You’re going to see those areas are actually connected to a lot of the work that we are doing in rezoning and the facilities plan.”

Carrick said the areas included overall curriculum access and equity, Amistad and Holocaust curriculum, teacher training, training and implementation, writing of curriculum, training of curriculum, implementation of curriculum, and restorative practices/restorative justice (tied to code of conduct).

“You can see that all of these are coming together very nicely into a package that I think will set SOMSD schools forward in very positive direction in the future … and be able to monitor,” said Carrick.

Board member Johanna Wright asked if the district was out of compliance.

Carrick answered, “In the areas where we answered ‘no,’ I would say that we are still doing a great deal in those areas. But can we say with 100% accuracy that we are compliant across the board? No. Where we said ‘no’ [it was] not [that] we are doing nothing.” Rather, said Carrick, the designation of “no” often indicated that “there is more work to be done.”

“If it wasn’t being completely implemented or finished, it was marked a no,” said Carrick.

“There is also a corrective action document in the back of the document that looks at not only what we are doing but who is responsible for implementing and taking care of [it],” said Carrick.

Board President Annemarie Maini added, “In the [CEP] we submitted prior, I think administration answered to compliance ‘yes, we know this is important,’ and even though we said ‘yes’ in all of the columns, we created some corrective actions plans.”

Carrick added, “We did say ‘yes’ in all the columns and I think that’s why the Affirmative Action team  that spoke this evening was very proud of the work that it put forward because if it wasn’t fully in effect they said so, and I think it ties in very nicely with everything the district is doing because it’s  … a validation that the right hand and the left had are working in unison.”

Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad said, “My question is around compliance vs a journey. I’m curious in the state how many districts actually are fully compliant with a Comprehensive Equity Plan. We all know that as a state we have major issues, and this is the state DOE calling on us to make an effort.”

Lawson-Muhammad added, “I commend the effort of the group to be very transparent and honest because it’s not until we are transparent and honest that we can do the work. … Our community has asked again and again and expects that transparency and it also gives more credence to this work that is necessary. … So for anybody who questions why we are …reconfiguring the elementary schools, when we publish the report that’s your answer.”

Maini added, “It’s a good framework.”

Former Board President and current Board member Elizabeth Baker also indicated that she felt that this report was more rigorous than past iterations.

“If we had one in 2010 or 2013 that we were serious about and adhered to,” said Baker, “I think our students would have found themselves in much more engaging, supportive and respectful school environments than many of them have.”

Baker added, “I just want to suggest or ask one thing.” Baker asked that with the annual filing of the statement of assurance, “that we report out to the community. That way we are holding ourselves to account.”

Earlier in the meeting, members of the Affirmative Action team, including teachers Ana Reyes and TJ Whitaker as well as STEM Supervisor 9-12 Jameel Misbadhuddin, took to the microphone to endorse the report — but offer a word of caution about following up.

“Things can look good on paper, but it’s what we do to implement,” said Whitaker, “We still have a lot of work to do.” Whitaker said that the team was committed to that work.

Maini also read a Statement from team member Raquel Horn, Principal of Marshall School. Horn called the new CEP the product of an “honest discussion.” Horn said that while there are “clearly gaps” she was “exceptionally proud that we were open and honest and did a true self assessment.” Horn said she was “confident that the district will carry it out as written.”

TJ Whitaker with Ana Reyes

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