Brenda Lewis: School equity efforts surpass agreement
In the past several weeks, many people most likely have been hearing information regarding Rochester Public Schools with respect to race, equity and the Office for Civil Rights agreement.
Rochester Public Schools has disproportionality in our discipline data. What does that actually mean? It means that our black and brown students receive a higher percentage of suspensions and office referrals when compared to our white students.
The Office for Civil Rights is a branch of the federal department of education charged with the responsibility of ensuring that districts are in compliance with Title Vi, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. Rochester Public Schools entered into an agreement with OCR, and the agreement serves as a long-range plan to determine the source of the disproportionality as well as outline action to eliminate it.
While the OCR agreement has served as a catalyst to our equity work, it is not the be-all, end-all of our work. The agreement reinforces a number of components we already are doing as well as defines interventions and data tracking that we were not doing in our district.
The real work that will bring about systematic changes in our district comes from providing our students, staff and families with the supports they need. Our community stakeholders play an essential role in our equity work. We need to hear from all in the community.
Rochester Public Schools doesn't have all the solutions nor does it have all the supports, but I truly believe as a collective community we do. RPS has established urgency surrounding the equity work in our district.
We have created equity specialist positions within our district. A significant piece of the responsibility for these positions is to establish, deepen and sustain high-quality partnerships with community organizations and stakeholders. Our equity specialists will provide supports to our schools by promoting parent engagement and involvement as well as serving as a bridge between the schools and families and advocate of educational equity for all students and families.
Rochester Public Schools is focusing on professional development for our staff regarding cultural competency and equity. This professional development will occur in a variety of formats. We will use a combination of RPS staff members and consultants to deliver and support this professional development. The variety of delivery formats allows for deeper learning and application.
I am personally very energized by the level of involvement, interest and passion within our community surrounding the equity work. On March 15, we had a community input session with more than 160 community members who brought forward suggestions, ideas and recommendations for the district's equity work moving forward.
Rochester Public Schools has formed a community focus team. John Edmonds, co-founder of Project Legacy, and I are co-facilitating the community focus team. This team is comprised of RPS alumni, parents, community members and district staff who are ready and willing to review all of the community input as well as to bring their own perspectives regarding advancing our district in our equity work.
The community focus team is comprised of community stakeholders and district staff members. It is charged with the responsibility of soliciting input from our community stakeholders. This input along with the input the focus team members bring will be utilized to provide our district with recommendations for ways to ensure our equity work continues to evolve.
Quality early childhood programming is also a critical component to our equity work. The achievement gap and disparity do not start in kindergarten. Investment in high-quality preschool programming provides our children with the exposure and tools to be successful as they enter kindergarten.
While the disproportionality we see in RPS regarding discipline data, enrollment in our honors and advanced-placement courses, fine arts and athletics programming and our graduation rates won't be fixed overnight, we are committed to working in partnership with our students, staff, families and community stakeholders to eliminate this disproportionality.
Brenda Lewis, of Rochester, is the assistant superintendent of Rochester Public Schools.