AUSD Notes: How Alameda schools are promoting racial equity

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Over the last several months, a number of community members have asked what the Alameda Unified School District is doing to support equity and anti-racism across the district as a whole and on our campuses. Our Aug. 7 newsletter to families, available online at www.alamedaunified.org/press, details a number of those initiatives. This week I’ll also summarize that information in this column.

To start, it’s important to understand that the AUSD has been working on equity and anti-racist initiatives for some time now. Three years ago, for instance, we began introducing restorative practices to our school sites. Restorative practices focus on building community, developing relationships and repairing harm as opposed to punishment and exclusion — both of which are administered to students of color at a higher rate than white students and have adverse effects on student engagement and academic success. Almost all of our schools have undergone training in restorative practices at this point, and our educators will continue to collaborate on these topics this year.

In professional development in 2019-20 AUSD’s Instructional Leadership Team focused on Zaretta Hammond’s book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,” a neuroscience-based teaching framework that focuses on nurturing and building the cognitive capacity of students from diverse backgrounds. It emphasizes the importance of developing relationships and explicitly teaching learning and critical thinking skills to help students become independent learners. That focus was extended during a six-day learning conference for teachers in early June, at which Hammond was also a keynote speaker, and will also be incorporated into another learning conference in late August.

Also in 2019-20, a group of AUSD principals created a diversity-in-hiring committee focused on the need to hire more staff that represent our students. That committee provided training to the principals on hiring practices (including providing interview questions that center on equity). Over the last several months, the AUSD has also hired a number of managers who are people of color, including three site administrators and two managers at the district’s office.

Last year, the district also worked to develop a strategic plan that specifically focused on issues of equity and supporting African-American students. Although the plan has not been finalized, that focus has been at the center of plans for instructional programs this year, with the understanding that distance learning can exacerbate existing inequities in teaching and learning. Because of that, the AUSD is committed to making sure every student has a digital device and connection to the Internet this year and making explicit plans to support strong connections between teachers, students and families this year.

This year, too, the AUSD will work with Kingmakers of Oakland to do an equity audit of our policies, practices and curriculum while doing more focused work at Ruby Bridges Elementary School, Paden Elementary School, Love Elementary School and Wood Middle School. Kingmakers of Oakland is specifically focused on helping Black boys succeed in and out of school.

In curriculum this year the AUSD is offering an “Introduction to Ethnic Studies” course as well as a “Navigating Life” course, both of which will help students understand their own identities, learn to shift the discourse around race and culture and respond skillfully to social change. At the same time, we are piloting various social studies curricula, in hopes of finding texts and lesson plans that are more reflective of our times and community.

Finally, the AUSD is developing partnerships with several organizations, including the city of Alameda, the Black Achievers Alliance and the NAACP, to identify and develop ways to support and engage African-American students and families. As such, we would like to invite all community members to a Zoom conversation with Chris Chatmon of Kingmakers at 10:35 a.m. Aug. 29. You can find the details for that event on our home page (www.alamedaunified.org).

Susan Davis is the Alameda Unified School District’s senior manager for community affairs. Reach her at 510-337-7175 or sdavis@alameda.k12.ca.us.

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Author: Susan Davis

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