The following release is from the South Orange-Maplewood School District. It follows on the presentation of an Equity Audit Report by Dr. Edward Fergus of the Rutgers University Disproportionality and Equity Lab at a special meeting of the Board of Education on September 18, 2023.
MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – Dr. Ronald Taylor, Superintendent of the School District of South Orange & Maplewood, sent the following letter to students, families, and colleagues today following the presentation at last night’s special meeting of the Board of Education by Dr. Edward Fergus of Rutgers University’s Equity and Disproportionality Lab.
Dear South Orange & Maplewood School District Students, Families, and Colleagues,
“We have a lot more work to do.”
That is a phrase commonly used, perhaps overused, by people talking about the need to build greater equity where there is diversity of people, whether it is our nation, our state, or our school district. Sometimes when I hear it, I detect a hint of resignation – almost as if the speaker is implying that the work will never really get done, but at least somebody is trying.
The reality is that last night’s presentation by Dr. Edward Fergus showed that there is indeed a lot more work to be done in building greater equity in our District. The service that Dr. Fergus and his team at Rutgers University’s Equity and Disproportionality Lab have done through their report is that they have articulated how we can go about getting that work done. Their recommendations are based on research they completed through most of the 2022-2023 school year collecting data, talking with students and staff, and surveying stakeholders. That is why I am so grateful for their hard work. It’s one thing to say that we have a lot more work to do. It’s another thing to say how to do it.
Dr. Fergus’s presentation last night was thorough. So was the discussion that followed it. There was a broad range of reactions expressed last night. But everyone agreed that any inequity in our District is unacceptable.
Let me assure you that we, as a District, are committed to getting this most important work done of building greater equity among our students and their access to opportunities to achieve academic excellence.
In many ways that work has already begun, and the list that accompanies this letter highlights some of the areas where we have been working. I mention these items not to say that the District’s job is done. Only to say that we are moving in the right direction.
But we cannot do it alone. Everyone – families, students, staff members, and stakeholders throughout the community – needs to commit and recommit to the goal of fully integrating our schools and classrooms, practically on a daily basis. It is how we will ensure that every child’s humanity is recognized, the content of their character continues to build, and their skills and knowledge continue to develop.
So, if you’ll forgive my use of the phrase, we do have a lot of work to do. And if we can work together, we will get it done.
Dr. Ronald Taylor
Superintendent of Schools
Cc. Board of Education Members
South Orange & Maplewood School District: Working To Achieve Equity
Intentional Integration Initiative
The District is in its third year of implementing our Intentional Integration Initiative (III). This generational lift has served as a methodical, measured, and consistent answer to the statewide question of how we integrate our schools in a thoughtful yet impactful manner. Through III, we have placed more than 2,500 students in our current Kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade, sixth-grade, and seventh-grade classrooms.
This month, we have made progress in unpairing Delia Bolden Elementary School and Marshall Elementary Schools, which will increase the availability of classroom space in all grades, K to 5, and help foster a diverse range of learners in all classes.
Seeking Out Voices To Guide Our Work
The District is continuing its efforts to stay in touch with students and families through its bi-annual Experience Surveys, which are an integral part of the Intentional Integration Initiative.
The District has also conducted N.J. School Climate Improvement (NJSCI) surveys at Columbia High School, Maplewood Middle School, and South Orange Middle School. These surveys have gathered the perspectives of students, parents, guardians, and staff opportunities regarding the climate and culture of our schools. Central to the District’s efforts in maintaining a positive school climate and culture is Restorative Justice, an indigenous philosophy that emphasizes building relationships.
Working For Greater Equity In Curriculum & Instruction
The District has begun auditing curricula in order to make it more equitable, with training of supervisors last June and curriculum equity teams beginning their work in the fall.
The District has adopted a new mathematics curriculum (Eureka Math²) for our K to 5 students to better prepare them for middle school and high school.
All students in grades 3 to 12 have access to online, one-on-one tutoring through the District’s partnership with Tutor.com.
During the 2022-2023 school year, the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses enrollment is up from last year, from 1282 to 1548 students. Within that overall increase:
- the number of Black students in AP increased from 161 to 212, or 32 percent.
- the number of Latinx students in AP courses has increased from 19 to 42, or 121 percent.
- the number of Multiracial students in AP courses increased from 145 to 189, or 30 percent.
Finally, it is a strength of our District that the Board of Education has allowed us to have matters of access and equity driven and overseen by two results-oriented educational leaders in the central administration. It speaks to the Board’s commitment as well as that of the schools and the administration.