Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | November 16, 2021
The Sarasota County School Board will receive a much-anticipated draft of a new equity policy for the school district during its workshop on Tuesday.
School officials say the policy, once finalized and approved by the School Board, will factor heavily into the district’s long-term plans to raise the performance of “underperforming student groups.”
Superintendent Brennan Asplen established the Equity Committee last year, and it is led by Harriet Moore, the district’s innovation and equity director.
Moore said the committee was focused on figuring out where the district was failing to provide resources for students from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Equity means that the playing field is leveled for all participants,” Moore said during an interview over the summer. “In other words, people receive what they need, when they need it, in order to be successful. That’s different from equality, which says everyone has equal access and opportunity.”
Committee member Geri Chaffee said the term “equity” has been politicized and can be a red flag for people worried that districts will water down curriculum or lower standards to improve outcomes. Chaffee said that was not the committee’s goal and that it was more about “improving customer service.”
“You are never going to have equal outcomes for everyone. People have different talents,” Chaffee said. “But if the receptionist has a hangnail and doesn’t want to deal with a family because they don’t speak English, that’s not acceptable.”
“If the receptionist has a hangnail and doesn’t want to deal with a family because they don’t speak English, that’s not acceptable.”Equity Committee member Geri Chaffee
What is the committee recommending?
The group’s overarching goal is to ensure that “ALL students are provided opportunities to receive the skills, knowledge, and understanding to succeed according to their individual abilities in higher education, careers, life readiness, and the community,” according to the draft.
The policy states that staff will use an “equity lens” as they develop programs and practices.
According to the policy, an equity lens is a “process for analyzing or diagnosing the impact of the design and implementation of policies as it relates to underperforming student groups, to identify and eliminate barriers.”
Moore gave some examples, saying the district needed to do a better job in helping students who come from homes with no books, helping students get into pre-kindergarten and ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access to gifted academic programs.
The policy identifies some areas that the policy will specifically address:
- Professional development. Staff will receive training to focus on creating inclusive learning environments and to ensure that they are welcoming to students from a variety of backgrounds.
- Student support. The policy says that staff will work to connect low-performing students with the resources they need to succeed.
- Data. District staff will address “systemic deficiencies that create gaps in academic achievement.” The draft says staff will pay particular attention to disproportionate discipline rates, placement in special education programs or placement in gifted or accelerated programs.
- Staff recruitment. The district will work to diversify its workforce so that it “reflect(s) the racially and culturally diverse community of Sarasota County Schools.”
Asplen established the committee last year, after cancelling the contract of Sharroky Hollie, who was set to receive $115,000 for delivering seven talks during the 2020-21 school year.
Hollie got off to a rough start during his first session, delivered virtually during teacher’s week of preparation for returning to school in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While much of Hollie’s talk was about basic respect and acceptance, many teachers balked at his encouraging them to report one another for racial insensitivity. And his pricetag ($16,428 per talk) seemed high to many as the economy was still recovering after that spring’s COVID shutdowns.
Asplen opted to appoint Moore to oversee the district’s efforts to form a committee.
“Doing everything we can to build that positive culture and climate allows us to teach all students very, very well,” Asplen said at the time. “But I do feel like we need to pull back on that, take it slower, and take a look at what we are doing and how we are doing it.”
The board will review the draft on Tuesday and provide feedback for the committee. Moore said the final policy will influence strategies embedded within the district’s long-term strategic plan.