Following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the Pasadena Unified School Board unanimously voted in June of 2020 to approve Resolution 2566 that I authored so that as a District we could commit to “eradicating any practices, policies, systems, and curriculum that have a biased, discriminatory, racist, or suppressive impact on Black students.”
The creation of an anti-racist school culture is an ongoing, ever-evolving process. For years, we have been on a journey to strategically infuse Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into our structure and curriculum.
Our work began with the development of seven magnet schools since 2013 including the Early College Magnet at John Muir High School. By definition, magnet schools aim to correct the wrongs of racial isolation and segregation. Magnet schools are bringing more opportunities for PUSD’s Black students to explore and develop their interests and talents.
In 2016, PUSD took the lead in equity work and established a district-level position to coordinate equity and access implementation. That led to the development of a committee, and the broadening of equity work across the district.
In Summer 2019, PUSD launched a districtwide conversation on equity at the annual staff back to school event. Later that school year when PUSD and the rest of the world confronted the COVID pandemic, issues of equity and inclusion remained at the forefront of our work.
After the approval of Board Resolution 2566 on Black Students and Board Resolution 2586 on Latinx/Indigenous students, PUSD commissioned Hanover Research to conduct an equity analysis on student achievement and teacher access. In January 2021, we received results of the analysis and recommendations, which included integrating discussion and examination of equity into all District processes and frameworks, providing support to students in underrepresented groups, reviewing the way special education and gifted students are identified, and targeting support for students as early as possible.
Nearly two years since my resolution was approved, PUSD has come a long way in addressing systemic bias in academics and operations.
PUSD has developed an equity mission to guide our work together:
“To provide a safe and supportive environment where we work to eradicate systemic inequalities including but not limited to racism, micro-aggressions and unconscious biases used in a derogatory manner toward Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our entire school system so all employees, students, and families can grow and thrive in OUR journey towards diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Actions and decisions must pass the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Litmus Test that help ingrain these concepts into the district’s very fiber. If a program, curriculum, policy, or practice does not “pass” all of the questions in the test, then it is either modified, not approved or removed from further use in the district. The Pasadena litmus test consists of three questions:
1. Does the impact of the action directly encourage the valuing of multiple, intersectional identities? How does the school district know?
2. Does the action ensure avenues of success for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and marginalized students/employees? Is the action at the expense of/harming BIPOC and marginalized groups?
3. Does the action intentionally contribute to the belonging of BIPOC and marginalized groups in the school district? How does the school district know?
PUSD has created the Student Think Tank and Leadership Team which brings together diverse student voices in shared knowledge-building that inform PUSD’s instructional and curricular decisions.
In Fall 2020, the district’s Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development Department began working on creating an Ethnic Studies course for high school students. In Fall 2021, PUSD high schools began offering an Ethnic Studies course where students explore an interdisciplinary field of study that encompasses subjects including history, literature, economics, sociology, anthropology, and political science. The course provides students with access to a learning experience that honors the cultural diversity and history of our communities and that examines the inequities that have endured as a result of systemic racism and other forms of oppression and bigotry. The course empowers students to engage socially and politically and to think critically about the world around them.
In partnership with United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP) and the African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPC), launched the Math Power Hour to raise achievement in the early grades, since disparities in academic achievement worsen over time as the student gets older. The AAPC takes an active role in advocacy that shapes policy and change.
The goal of PUSD’s work is to strengthen our awareness and understanding of the causes and impacts of racism in education. One recent analysis confirmed what we suspected – that Black students are underrepresented among students with successful academic outcomes in PUSD. Armed with that knowledge, we are compelled to work toward broader goals – to equip and prepare our leaders and students with tools and skills needed to advocate, organize and mobilize and to disrupt institutional racism and advance social justice in education.
We are supporting our principals and staff with monthly training sessions designed to help PUSD move to a color-conscious school culture. Those sessions were just the beginning of a series of purposeful steps we are taking to create culturally-responsive practices, particularly in literacy.
PUSD has also developed a plan to address the disproportionate percentage of suspensions of Black students and the impact on the community. Although suspension rates have decreased overall for many racial groups, Black students continue to experience suspension at a higher rate than all other students. State laws have been passed to address historic bias, but long-standing cultural beliefs remain about Black students. We need to ask why we still have a suspension problem in Pasadena and across the US. We have discovered that this question is rooted in a “fix them” mentality, the flawed, archaic point-of-view centered around a perceived need to correct the “negro” child.
Recently, the Board of Education voted to rename Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy as Octavia E. Butler Magnet, in honor of the Black science fiction author who began her writing career at PUSD schools.
PUSD’s Graduate Profile describes our end goal: a generation of young learners who inquire, possess knowledge, think critically, and question the status quo while developing into caring and open-minded community members.
The errors of the past still surface today and impede our progress. But we are on a mission to discover the truths of the past, especially the ugly ones, and to improve the present climate by listening to Black students, their parents, caregivers, and the community. It is only by engaging all the stakeholders that we can carve a path of healing and change.
Nearly two years later, has bias, discrimination and racism disappeared from classrooms, schools, and public education in general? It has not, but our work continues, and we will not relent.