Pleasanton Unified School District leadership will spend a three-year period working with an outside consultant to identify and address equity gaps among students, including any problematic policies and practices that contribute to systemic racism, microaggressions and student marginalization.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $248,000 contract with Nicole Anderson and Associates Consulting at its March 25 meeting, marking the first step toward developing and implementing a district-wide, multi-year equity gap plan.
"I'm supportive of the work, largely because it's necessary, but also we have tried to do this on our own for a number of years," Board President Joan Laursen said before voting. "I've had the privilege to participate in some of that work and it is difficult to do this on your own, to recognize the implicit bias."
Laursen added, "It helps to have people of different perspectives, who can look at a situation and tell you that your experience is not everyone's experience, and that's very helpful."
The three-year process will involve workshops to help PUSD evolve and align its definition of equity, close and eliminate identified equity gaps, and change policies accordingly to ensure high outcomes for all students.
According to a district report, Black students make up just 1.38% the district's overall racial composition but have the most disabilities at 16.5%, and most suspension incidents by ethnicity at 10.17 %. Collectively, Black students also make up 27.27% of suspension incidents for students with disabilities. The graduation rate is the district's lowest at 93.3%.
Hispanic students make up nearly 10% of the district's overall demographics, with slightly fewer disabled students by percentage (at 16.29%), but only slightly more than 3% of suspension incidences by ethnicity, and 5.46% of suspension incidences for disabled students. Graduation rates were reported just slightly higher at about 93.4%.
White students account for 35.38% of the district's ethnic makeup and 11.11% of disabled students, but only 2.7% of all suspensions by ethnicity and 6.45% suspensions for disabled students, with a graduation rate 96.4%.
Asians comprise 45.58% of PUSD racial demographics but have the fewest students with disabilities (4.25%), and less than 1% of all suspensions by ethnicity. They also had the fewest suspensions for disabled students, at 3.42%. The graduation rate was 99.2%.
Trustee Mary Jo Carreon said she was "alarmed" at the suspension rates of Black students, and asked consultant Nicole Anderson for "some examples of what you could do, what kind of strategies you would use to change this."
Anderson replied that "it's important to recognize the historical context of public education," which wasn't originally intended to educate women or girls, poor people or minorities.
"When you look at that foundation as it evolved over the years, the reality is that we slowly start to make those changes as we start to educate more and more kids," Anderson said. "When you fast forward to where we are in 2021, some of our policies and practices have a lot of mirroring to the past."
Anderson continued, "When we look at things like ... addressing the mindsets, the mental models and where implicit bias sits, a lot of times, you look at the data and go, 'well wait, we only have 1.4% of our kids,' but yet they have this larger disproportionate discipline rate."
"What it tells you is that there's some practices happening that have to be looked at around multiple things," Anderson added.
Bias with cultural differences between staff and students also needs to be explored, including "how we determine what behavior is appropriate and what's not."
"You see the same disproportionality (of discipline rates) in most districts, and it's not because African American kids aren't great students, are not brilliant, are not able to behave in school -- it's that we have a structure in place that's built around these cultural disconnects," Anderson said.
The multi-year process will begin with district and site leadership but Trustee Kelly Mokashi said, "I would love to see some teacher representatives take part of that because ... change has to come from the ground up."
Trustee Steve Maher said, "While I support all of this, certainly ... besides doing this step, is there any thought about putting the same amount of money into, say, tutoring clubs, homework clubs, anything like that?"
Maher then asked if "the students we have now, do they have to wait three years before they start seeing a change?"
Assistant superintendent Janelle Woodward said those proposals can be "with the money we have now," by using LCAP funding set aside by the district every year.
The district also has "some grants coming our way that are designed for that specific purpose, and so yes, there's a real time need to do something that helps our struggling students," Woodward said.
"I can understand that there might be some concerns and in particular about the dollars," Laursen said. "I know in our Pleasanton community, not all of our residents are prepared for us to do this work, and part of the reason is that we need to work with the leadership, including ourselves, to really deeply understand the work and be able to explain the why and the how of what we're doing to our community members."
Permanent systemic change is needed, Laursen said, "otherwise it'll fall away as people change in leadership roles, if we don't build that capacity and build that learning, and build that understanding, baked in our bones, in our district."