Social Equity is a primary focus in San Diego Unified School District and the effort goes well beyond our school. Over the last two years De Portola staff and administration have received training from the National Equity Project intended to challenge long held policies and systems that perpetuate inequities within schools. In response to this district wide push, De Portola has made several changes in course placements, ramped up efforts to engage parents from underrepresented groups, implemented learning partnerships, and created an instruction focus intentionally targeting the gatekeeper skill of reading.
During the course of reflection, De Portola staff identified a need to create a more inclusive school. Students of color and low SES were rarely represented in prominent classes that formed De Portola’s identity and as a result, these students described a lack of connection to the school. One example came in the form of our yearbook class. Students were selected for this class using criteria that excluded underrepresented groups and the composition of the class consistently included white and Asian students. Students learning English, those with learning disabilities, and students of color had limited access the class and as a result, had limited representation in the school’s yearbook. These students were marginalized. Over the last three years criteria for being in yearbook class were removed and now the class more accurately represents the population of the school. In turn, photos and writeups within the yearbook have more frequently included students of color and low SES. A similar change has taken place in our selection of ASB students and for the last two years, students from our moderate to severe disabilities class have not only been included, but have given speeches and earned elected positions.
Parents of underrepresented students have played an important role in making De Portola more inclusive. Our efforts to engage these families include night meetings held in their respective neighborhoods. We offer training designed to help parents understand Lexile levels and parent groups intended to garner feedback about our school’s support of English Learners. These efforts have given families a better connection to our school and in turn, families have had a voice in directing De Portola’s course as well as valuable knowledge about how they can support their child’s education. Parents who attended Lexile training reported higher rates of reading at home and a stronger understanding of how reading at home can prepare a student for success at school. This focus on reading was an intentional attempt to target a gatekeeper skill, reading. De Portola staff chose a schoolwide, targeted focus on Lexile and because it specifically addresses a need to teach reading in middle school. This focus also allows teachers from content specific classes to measure and address students’ need to build vocabulary, an approach that supports reading as well as English Language Development. The result of these efforts is San Diego Unified School District’s highest percentage of reclassifications.
Focus on Reading
Reading is truly a gatekeeper skill and can empower our population to avoid the pitfalls of marketing, biased reporting and misleading facts. Because of the intense need for strong reading our team created a two pronged approach to addressing reading at the middle level. While English teachers continue to develop readers’ ability to comprehend complex texts, we have engaged parents as the “at home” reading teacher. The “at home” aspect of reading instruction starts with every student in the school taking Houghton Mifflin’s Reading Inventory. Students record their school in their planner and then we use that school as a starting point to educate parents on the role they play in building their students lexile. Parents are invited to educational events put on by the principal (around lexile and choosing a just right book) or watching an online video version of the presentation. The presentation is available here: https://goo.gl/2FBKSw . One might wonder why a focus on reading is an example of social equity. For our team, it has become very clear that historically, reading instruction stops at 5th grade. Students from underrepresented groups are often left in the dust and the need to improve reading is not addressed in middle school. We believe our focus on reading and writing schoolwide offers the best opportunity to reach those difficult to reach students at Tier 1 and in effect, close the achievement gap.
Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum
Other efforts to create a more equitable school include the movement toward a guaranteed and viable curriculum. We are working with the teaching staff to align teacher planning and curricular offerings across grade levels as well as ensure that all students have access to the critical concepts in each subject matter as laid out by Marzano Research. We believe that this aligned will results in our students receiving an equal chance at learning regardless of the teacher assigned to support that student.
Ultimately, De Portola still has a lot of work ahead in addressing inequity and improving access for students from typically underrepresented populations. However, we believe the foundation for such gain exists at our school. With a truly diverse population, De Portola is poised to provide an educational experience inclusive of all students.