One of the takeaways from a public meeting the Monomoy Regional School District held in 2018 to get input into its strategic planning process was that the 100 or so people in attendance weren't representative of the school population.
“There was a strong majority of white faces in the room,” recalled Marc Smith, the district's director of curriculum. “Even with the work we'd done with outreach, we were missing certain voices.”
With the district's student population growing more diverse — 22 percent of students are non-white, and for more than 80 students, English is not their first language or the language spoken at home — two of the four objectives in the strategic plan approved in January 2019 focused on equity; the first for families and caregivers, the second on closing gaps in access and achievement based on race, gender, able status, language and socio-economic status.
To try to get input from the voices that were missing during the strategic planning process, Monomoy is forming an equity task force which will investigate policies, practices and systems within the district that may be creating barriers for some students and families.. A broad range of participants are being sought to “better reflect the multiple perspectives, backgrounds and experiences” of the district's students, Smith said. Parents, caregivers, students, teachers, staff, community members and local leaders are among the stakeholders identified for inclusion on the task force.
The group will have a steering committee and is expected to spend at least a year developing recommendations for changes that improve equity and access. There will be additional short-term subcommittee work, Smith said, and people who can't commit to a regular meeting are still encouraged to participate when they can.
“We don't want availability to be a barrier for participation,” he said. “We really want to have as many people as are interested in the work.”
With protests around the nation focusing on equity issues involving policing, voter access and economics, now seems to be an appropriate time to establish the task force. But Smith said it was originally supposed to launch in the spring, but was put on hold due to the pandemic.
“We're not reacting to that,” he said of the current protests, “because this was already part of the [strategic] plan. But it's brought new energy to the work. The opportunity is ripe to really do some deep work.”
He noted that students' activism has helped drive Black Lives Matter rallies and gun violence protests, and the voices of students will be critical to the equity task force.
Using internal school data, the district found areas where the academic needs of all students were not being met. These include achievement differences as well as access to higher level courses. One of the objectives of the strategic plan is to find ways to close those gaps and, according to the plan, to “implement targeted instruction and supports to improve outcomes for the largest and most persistent achievement gaps.” The plan calls for teacher training to promote awareness of cultural differences as well as further outreach into the community.
The other equity goal focuses on families and caregivers. One aspect of that could be seen with the switch to remote learning last spring. Not all families had access to the internet or devices needed to participate in classroom learning. Food service was another gap; at times, up to 60 percent of the district's students receive free or reduced-price meals, and not having access to that was a significant problem.
The district was proactive in reaching out to families and was able to get remote learning up and running quicker than other districts. “We did a lot of work up front to find out where the needs were,” Smith said. Among other steps, the district purchased WiFi hotspots for students who needed access.
The district also launched a grab and go meals program that will continue for at-home learners and high school students who will be in class two out of every three days when school resumes Sept. 14.
Smith anticipates the product of the task force will be a mix of policy proposals, recommendations to school leaders and the school committee, and changes to practices and procedures that lead to a better understanding of the needs of the entire school community. It could also lead in other directions, he said.
“You can never forecast the future, but I really think that as a country, and even in a small version of it here at Monomoy, we're poised now to make effective change. We've been doing a lot of things the same way for a long time. We can't expect different results unless we change the way we're doing things. This is an opportunity for us to really dive into that work.”
There is no defined end date for completion of the work. Smith said it is likely to be ongoing; new topics are likely to surface as others are addressed.
“We know we're not perfect, and we want to be better,” and this task force is a step in that direction, he said. “It's work that's important to us and we're going to continue to see it all the way through to the end.”
To learn more about the task force or to sign up to participate, visit www.monomoy.edu/Page/3597. Sept. 30 is the deadline to sign up. The first meeting of the task force will take place Oct. 15.