Ethnic Studies

Class offerings and district equity discussed

Emotions ran high at the March 6 meeting of the Windsor Unified School District Board of Trustees as issues of equity and inclusivity came before the board during discussions on course offerings.

The evening began on a positive note, with the newly crowned state and national champion Windsor High Jaguar cheerleaders posing for pictures with the board, and student circle leaders at the high school gaining recognition for their work.

The student circle leaders are from the Community Cultural Restoration class at Windsor High School and they help lead and facilitate “restorative circles” at the high school as part of their social emotional learning component.

The discussion of adding ethnic studies courses at the high school has been going on for several years and a group of teachers and principals came before the board to discuss the current state of the courses. WHS principal Staci Desideri said that with the state moving forward on its own set of rules and curriculum, with an eye toward it becoming a course required for graduation and UC admission in 2023, plans at the high school had gone into a holding pattern.

The board quickly made it clear that they were not interested in waiting around for the state. “We’ve been waiting for this for four years,” said George Valenzuela. “We’re going to have kids graduating and never being offered the course. My vision was for this to be an elective and start the class and if it grew then we grow the program. It’s my intention we start on this now rather than wait on the state, because when they promise sometimes they don’t come through. I graduated 30 years ago, and minored in ethnic studies and we are still now saying maybe we should wait. I would hate to see us wait, because the state often lags behind in its promises.”

Desideri then delivered more bad news — that the deadline for course offerings had expired at midnight the night before, meaning the earliest any such course could be offered was the 2019/20 school year.

“I want to recognize what a disappointment that this will not be a course offering for the upcoming school year,” said trustee Sandra Dobbins. “I know you’ve had a lot of turnover (at the high school) but please take a minute to acknowledge their disappointment.”

Esther Lemus cited statistics showing all the positive benefits that come from students of color having access to ethnic studies, and Valenzuela became emotional about the topic.

“My frustration is that we’ve been talking for four or five years about this, it should have been done,” he said, his voice wavering. “We have a district and state that’s changed. We have a predominance of Latino kids in Windsor, and these kids are looking for their identity and history and they don’t know where they came from. It’s empowering, as a person of color, to take these classes. My idea of the elective is to get the ball rolling, if we can help you as a school get the course offering. Let’s not kick the can down the road. I have an eighth grader and a 10th grader and I’d like them to have the option of this class before they graduate.”

“Its not only important for Latino students, it’s important for all students in moving from intolerance to diversity,” added Dobbins. “It should be for everyone, all inclusive.”

“I could not agree more,” said trustee Esther Lemus.

The emotional moments weren’t over yet, as Cali Calmecac principal Jeanne Acuña came before the board to discuss the lack of a math acceleration program at her school. At Windsor Middle School, students who are able have the option to skip ahead and take Integrated Math 1 as eighth graders, and then step into Integrated Math 2 as high school freshmen, leaving more options for AP level high math courses.

In previous meetings, it appeared that this option was not available for middle-schoolers at Cali, and Lemus asked for a presentation on the subject.

Acuña told the board that they do offer a limited, case-by-case option for students to accelerate. It involves special parental notification based on fifth grade math scores (the year they are skipped past is sixth grade math) followed by teacher recommendation, parent conferences and, if ultimately approved, enrollment in an online math course.

Although the students do the course work at school, they do not have a dedicated teacher and instead do their work at computers in the back of the standard math class for their grade level. Accelerated students at WMS have a dedicated class of Integrated Math 1.

At present there are five Cali students taking part in this offering, according to Acuña. At Cali, math in grades K through sixth is taught in Spanish and taught in English in seventh and eighth.

“We were told as a board at one point that your curriculum is different that the middle school’s due to you needing bilingual curriculum, but if you are teaching the upper levels of math in English anyway, why can’t you use the same curriculum?” Valenzuela asked.

Acuña replied that the Cali curriculum does an equally good job preparing students for Integrated Math 1 in ninth grade.

“One of my concerns is that I feel like we are doing a disservice to Cali students,” Lemus said. “We have a goal to be as prepared as possible for college admissions and it’s important for kids to take the right courses and be the most competitive candidate possible. I have recently learned about several students that are having a challenge at the high school because these kids are not prepared to take calculus come senior year. I’m aware of kids taking two math classes at the same time, which is really hard.”

“My other concern is that, as a parent, I’ve never been made aware of any of this,” Lemus continued. “Parents are not being given this information about another pathway. When we look at the indicators for identifying of students for acceleration, what we’re missing is the piece for parents to be able to raise this as a possibility.”

Lemus went on to point out that though her own daughter had the highest fifth grade math test score, they had not been invited to even discuss the possibility of acceleration, which she saw as an indication the current model did not allow for equity or inclusion.

Director of Lisa Saxon interjected to say the current issue for some students at the high school was related to the fact that there has been a multi-year transition from the traditional mathematics model of Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry and Calculus to the integrated model, which will create a definitive four-year path to AP level Calculus or Statistics, guaranteeing them for all seniors who wish to take them.

“That still doesn’t solve inequity of being able to take Integrated Math 1 at WMS but not at Cali,” Valenzuela said. “I didn’t know you could petition, and say ‘Hey, wait, I want my kid to take a math class at district expense.’ That lack of communication with our parents — I’m on the board and I didn’t know. I know it’s a cost but it’s a disservice not to offer it at both schools. The kids at Windsor Middle can take calculus in 11th grade, but for a Cali kid, it’s not an option. All I’m looking at is equity. If we have two different eighth grades, they should be on equal footing.”

“Clearly we can do a better job of communicating with parents,” Acuña said. “But, these are the common core standards adopted by the state in 2012. Because of our small size, we went to teaching common core because we couldn’t sustain multiple tracks. We understood that when we made that decision that the pathway would stay open at the high school, but that didn’t happen and that was a misunderstanding on our part. We’ve been trying, since discovering this, to fix what we’re doing at our site, but it’s not an exact science, and I’m sorry for those that got caught in that assessment, but it isn’t too late.”

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