Superintendent's Responses to Questions
Q: What was the impetus for this plan? I know Mrs. Senecal mentioned CREC. However, my understanding from people at the State Dept. of Ed is that this plan was pushed out through the state by SERC.
Administrators periodically report to the BOE on what is occurring in the school district. Our impetus is to responsibly respond to national conversations around race, equity, and inclusion as well as feedback from staff, students, and alumni. There was no plan from the state that we adopted.
We are not actively engaged in developing a Diversity and Equity Professional Development plan based on any SERC guidelines/programs. I am not aware of any connection between CREC and SERC.
Q: Does SPS believe "white supremacy" exists? Is SPS's goal to "dismantle white supremacy"? What is white supremacy? From Learning for Justice: In our work with educators, schools, students and communities, Learning for Justice seeks to uphold the mission of the Southern Poverty Law Center: to be a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.
I cannot speak for the entire school system and what each individual believes about White Supremacy and its role in American society. White Supremacy has many definitions based on one’s perspective and the context it is being referred to. It is not a focus of our professional conversations.
The vision statement you quoted from Learning for Justice is not something the school district fully embraces. Dismantling White Supremacy is beyond the school system’s mission. We do however believe in the advancement of human rights for all people.
Q: Can you differentiate the Somers DE&I plan versus CRT?
Our understanding is that CRT is a framework most appropriately used at the collegiate level and is not being implemented in Somers. The definitions of CRT vary. Our goal is always to provide an environment for all students to better understand, respect, and hopefully, accept the various cultures to ensure harmonious coexistence. We are not pitting one group, creed, culture, or race as being superior or inferior.
The Social Justice Standards Framework from Learning for Justice are standards that we will use as a “road map” to guide our discussions. They are not a curriculum. They provide a common language and organizational structure for when we review our current curricula to ensure cultural and historical accuracy. This framework will aid us in supporting Social Emotional Learning that promotes caring, inclusivity, tolerance, and empathy.
As stated in my opening remarks at the Open Forum:
We are not promoting or teaching Critical Race Theory.
We are not changing or adopting curriculum that reflects any one bias, perspective, or theory.
We are not advocating discrimination of individuals or groups.
Q: Mrs. Senecal explained why we are using half days for PD but we still don't know what is going to be taught to our teachers on those days. Why do we need more Diversity training if it has been in place since 2018? What has changed since then that we need more training and more half days? Could we get clarification on that?
The 2021 Professional Development focusing on diversity will consist of approximately six, 90-minute sessions over the course of the school year facilitated primarily by Mrs. Senecal. It is a continuation of previous diversity training and the total time dedicated to training this year is comparable to previous years. Half-day professional learning allows students to have continuous instruction five days a week. The majority of our professional training is ongoing and not just one-time workshops. We will be finalizing our PD program this summer/fall. Below are some of the anticipated topics.
● Courageous Conversations Framework.
● Recognizing and responding to microaggressions
● Understanding & discussing race
● Looking at historical events from multiple perspectives
● Understanding LGBTQ
● Setting up and administering the universal screener
● Disaggregating data to target instruction
● Data-driven instruction
● Building Trust
● Managing Stress
● Assessment and grading
● Academic achievement topics
● Fountas and Pinnell Classroom
● Teacher’s College of Reading and Writing
Q: Why the change from 5/13/19? Superintendent Czapla provided an example of an action plan in response to recent events within the community. Communities who want to come together develop action plans around certain issues the community may be experiencing. Rather than focusing on the controversial issues, the community can focus on their strengths to help deal with the issues. Superintendent Czapla stated that this is not something the school or Board of Education should spearhead. It should be a community coalition around faith-based service organizations or government organizations. It seems the schools have taken the lead on this based on direction from the State. What caused this change?
The reference to the minutes from the 5/13/19 meeting focused on a single event that occurred in the community and had ramifications in town and the school system. The school district’s action plans were focused on the impact the event had on the school system. The action plans for the community around this single incident were something I suggested the town may want to consider. This idea came from consulting with other communities that had similar incidents that impacted their community. Our current discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion are based on trying to be more proactive and helping faculty, staff, and students embrace differences. Our hope is that this proactive approach will better prepare students for their life after graduation while also preventing incidents in the future.
Q: If DE&I is so important and takes up so much PD, why isn't it in the 5 year plan?
It is in our five-year Strategic Plan. We developed a mission to “prepare each student to contribute and succeed in an ever-changing global society.” Success has many definitions and we recognize that it doesn’t rely on academic achievement alone (although that is a critical component of success). As our alumni have told us, they felt prepared academically but were disadvantaged from a cultural competency perspective.
Goal one of our plan is to “develop and implement instructional, digital, and assessment systems that support high student achievement, preparation for post-secondary life, and Somers Students Success Skills.” Preparation for post-secondary life includes academic achievement and social skills (including cultural awareness and acceptance of differences).
Goal two of our plan is to “develop and implement meaningful and personalized professional development programming that supports best practices, high student achievement, preparation for post-secondary school life, and the Somers Student Success Skills.” The dedication of some of our professional development time (9 out of a total of 98 hours) to diversity, equity, and inclusion will, in part, give our staff the skills to better prepare students for life beyond our school system.
Finally, the Somers Student Success Skills we identified also call for students to better understand the concepts of diversity. Specifically, collaboration skills strive for students to “recognize and accept diverse perspectives.”
Q: What is allyship? What is equity? How do they look in practice?
Allyship is the practice of emphasizing social justice, inclusion, and human rights to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalized group. An example is a student standing up for a fellow classmate who is being harassed due to a specific physical characteristic.
Equity: An approach that ensures everyone is given equal opportunity; this means that additional resources may be allocated to make sure that each person can access an opportunity. Examples of equity are
1. This past year, parents did not feel comfortable sending their children to school during the pandemic. We responded to their needs by providing a remote learning opportunity so they still had equal access to education.
2. Some of our students with exceptionalities have 504 plans and IEP’s so that they may have equal access to our educational programming. For example, some students struggle emotionally. We may allow them to access our mental health staff during class time if appropriate or modify programming to help alleviate any anxieties they may experience.
3. Some students may have a physical disability that limits mobility. We may need to provide specialized transportation (e.g., a van that accommodates a wheelchair) so they can access the school.
The goal is to always ensure that every student has an equal educational opportunity. How we do this may look different for students as we must look at their individual needs and provide them with resources, processes, accommodations, etc. in meeting their needs. (see infographic below for more information)
Q: Why is there no alternative in thought to the DE&I plan?
As we have repeatedly mentioned, we do not blindly accept theories or programs that have one bias. We consider all resources and alternatives in thought and make decisions that will support our goals. We will certainly take a look at these references.
Q: Why are we talking about equity, diversity, inclusion, and culturally responsive education?
We are continuing this conversation district-wide as part of on-going professional learning. These conversations are in response to Somers Public School faculty and staff members along with Somers High School students and recent graduates who have advocated for additional opportunities to have appropriate conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion as they are now integral parts of a national conversation.
We want Somers Public School faculty and staff to gain awareness, knowledge and understanding of their own cultural and racial identity. Educators need to be culturally responsive- realizing that one’s culture is central to learning. When teachers’ foster culturally responsive classrooms, students learn about different cultures and backgrounds found in the 21 century work environment both here in the United States and abroad. In a world that is increasingly more connected than ever before, we should strive to broaden the cultural worldview and experiences of our faculty, staff and students in part to make them more understanding and able to view issues from multiple perspectives. In order to do that, we need to take an inside-out approach in analyzing our biases and how we lean into conversations with some perceived notions.
Q: What are we planning to do regarding equity, diversity, inclusion, and culturally responsive education during the 2021-2022 school year?
We are currently engaged in the learning process that will include faculty and staff members engaging in conversations around Cultural Consciousness, Cultural Responsiveness and Cultural Advocacy. We will do this, in part, through ongoing professional development that consists of six 90-minute learning opportunities throughout the school year. After we have successfully engaged in these conversations, we will seek to create more inclusive and equitable learning environments based on our discussions and new knowledge.