Values & Priorities
Exemplary education means offering high-quality, rigorous, and well-supported academic curricula and instruction that reflect the diversity of our students and community, that are culturally relevant and applicable to the wider world students live in, and that foster critical thinking skills that enable students to grow into thoughtful, engaged members of our community. Exemplary education also embraces the whole child, recognizing that each student has unique and individual interests, strengths and needs – academic, athletic, artistic, social, emotional, cultural, etc. – and deserves the opportunity to explore their interests, develop their strengths, and be supported in their needs.
But exemplary education doesn’t just happen, it takes exemplary teachers, counselors, classified staff, and administrators. CCUSD needs to invest in its employees by offering competitive salaries and benefits to maintain the quality staff and educators it already has and to attract the best new staff and educators. Living in Culver City can be expensive, especially for new folks just starting their careers; if we want to attract the next generation of diverse, innovative staff and educators and want them to be part of our community, we also have to explore different forms of housing and transportation support. Exemplary staff and educators should be treated like the professionals they are and should have an ongoing role in school leadership and a voice in planning their own professional growth and development. Supporting exemplary employees also means maintaining good relationships with their unions – the Association of Classified Employees of Culver City and the Culver City Federation of Teachers – and working with employee unions as partners not adversaries.
Exemplary education can only happen in schools where students feel safe and that are clean and well-maintained to create an environment conducive to learning and exploration. “Safe” certainly means physically safe and free from vandalism, fights, and bullying, but it also means being inclusive and fostering students’ social and emotional growth, providing supports for students who are struggling, and offering positive alternatives for those students who need behavioral interventions. Relationships matter, and every student should feel connected to caring adults, be they teachers, counselors, custodians, secretaries, aides, or mentors.
Finally, exemplary education requires our schools to have access to up-to-date technology – both for students and adults – and universal connectivity. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, providing students with computers isn’t enough if students can’t connect to the internet. Adults’ relationship with technology and the internet has changed in the last few years, both at home and at work, and if we are preparing our students for college and careers, we need to prepare them for the technologies they’ll encounter there (and with the thinking skills to adapt to technologies that haven’t even been invented yet).
Diversity is an asset… an asset that can sometimes add complexity to situations, but ultimately an asset that adds richness, quality, and joy to our community and to our lives. Racial and ethnic diversity, philosophical and religious diversity, cultural, linguistic, culinary, gender, gender-identity and sexual orientation, ability/disability, neurodiversity, economic diversity, diversity of experience, diversity of opinion, and many more. All of these make us better and create a fantastic environment for students and adults to learn about and from each other. We must continue to celebrate our diversity and never allow it to divide us. Diversity, however, needs to be more than just celebrations. Look at recruitment and hiring, for example. Representation matters – as the district looks to recruit and hire new teachers, specialists, staff, and administrators, we can work to increase diversity so students can better see themselves reflected in the adults around them while also exposing them to people who are different from them yet still there for them. And when we have more diversity of people, are we making sure that diverse perspectives are included in important conversations and given consideration? By ensuring that we do, we move from window-dressing diversity to the type of complex, inclusive diversity that allows us to make better decisions that anticipate more challenges and possibilities and work well for the entirety of our students, employees, and community.
Inclusion can mean including diverse people and perspectives in activities and decision-making, but in education it tends to specifically refer to doing more to include students and groups of students who have been excluded from certain classes and activities that are open to other students. Two groups of students in particular are still excluded far too often in too many schools – students with disabilities and students still learning English. In both cases, outdated beliefs about ability, archaic school schedules and structures, and misplaced priorities are more the cause than antipathy, but the results are the same – students with disabilities and English learners are denied the access and opportunities they deserve.
For most students with disabilities, the appropriate placement is in a general education classroom with scaffolding and support, and training and support for their teachers. Legally, students must be placed in the “least restrictive environment,” and schools and districts have an obligation to do what is necessary to help students thrive in those least restrictive environments, not just to offer minimal support, what is convenient or cheap. Ultimately, each student and their needs are unique and decisions about placement, goals and supports must be made collaboratively by parents, teachers, specialists, and, when appropriate, the students themselves, with no single voice dominating or drowning out others. The 2022-23 state education budget includes new funding to support special education and to expand inclusion efforts into early education and preschool. Parents and our special education educators should be involved in the planning and implementation of these new opportunities. Finally, we need to work together to shift our school and community culture away from viewing students with disabilities as a burden or “less than” and towards embracing students with disabilities as kids… like any other kids, with likes and dislikes, talents and quirks, and yes, sometimes they need specialized supports to be successful in school settings, but that is only one aspect of who they are and should never define them or be the only thing we see.
Inclusion for English learners is different; it’s less about restrictive placement and more about countering practices that disrupt and delay learning, not just of English but other subjects as well, which leads to tracking, fewer opportunities, and exclusion from college and career pathways. In many places, English learners are pulled from “less important” subjects (i.e., non-state-tested) for language lessons or excluded from electives, art and CTE classes, or the A-G courses required for college admission and placed in ESL and ELD classes instead. Whether newcomers or long-term English learners, for most students, the most appropriate setting for learning is in their regular classroom, learning all subjects along with their peers, with scaffolding and support, and training, support, and planning time for their teachers. Smaller class sizes and instructional aides help, too. Effective, well-scaffolded instruction by well-trained, well-supported teachers allows English learners to make real progress more quickly, reclassifying as “English language proficient” earlier, enabling them to take college and career pathway classes in high school. The good news is that the state and federal governments allocate extra funds specifically to assist English learners. We have to make sure these funds are being used in ways that benefit the students who generate that money, especially when English learners in Culver City, as a group, continue to under-perform on state tests in math and language arts.
Finally, while students with disabilities and English learners are the students most often excluded from classes and activities, students may still be excluded based on other characteristics, like race/ethnicity, religion, gender/gender-identity/sexual orientation, economic conditions. Even though these characteristics aren’t usually cited explicitly as the reason for their exclusion, it’s still inexcusable and a violation of students’ civil rights. We have to be constantly on guard for actions and consequences of actions, intended and unintended, that exclude students, and to work for the inclusion of all students in the promise of a quality public education.
Equity & Justice
Equity means more than just “equal opportunities.” Just because a door is open doesn’t mean all students have the ability to walk through it. Equity is about outcomes, and genuine opportunities must include scaffolding and support so that all students can actually be successful in the situations they have access to. That might include tutoring and academic support, or it might mean counseling or mentorship. It might mean adjusting materials or instruction-style to be more widely appealing or reflective of students’ backgrounds and interests. It might mean developing positive behavior interventions or utilizing restorative justice practices. Equity might also mean stepping back and critically reconsidering existing policies, practices, and structures, asking difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions. Are there systematic roadblocks to student access and student success? Are there unnecessary prerequisites or unfair expectations that preclude participation? Do assumptions or biases or tracking exclude certain types of students from certain classes and activities? Are there historical factors that continue to impact today’s dynamics? We can use data from a variety of existing state and local sources (like the CA School Dashboard) as we reflect on student needs and the impact of our efforts, and develop additional local measures of student success that measure achievements we value that aren’t reported in state metrics. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we must ensure that students and communities who have been negatively impacted by existing policies, practices, and structures are being actively engaged in identifying needs and finding solutions, rather than being told “answers” without ever being asked questions.
Authentic Engagement & Collaboration
My final value/priority is engagement and collaboration… AUTHENTIC engagement and collaboration, which, in the context of a school district, means that different stakeholder groups are involved in decision making at the school and district level. Not just “consultation” – we’ve all been to meetings where we’ve been asked our opinions, someone checks a box that says, “Consult the public,” and then they go ahead and do what they intended to do all along – I’m talking about real listening that may alter the course of a project and shared decision making. One of my favorite maxims originates with the disability-rights movements in the 1990’s but can and should apply to any project: “Nothing about us without us” – don’t make decisions for or about people without their meaningful participation in the process.
As a union leader, I’ve spent much of my career pushing for teachers (as well as classified staff, parents, and students) to have a greater voice in the decisions that impact teaching and learning conditions at school. One lesson we learned is that not all parents are able to participate to the same degree, even when a process is open and transparent. Different people have different levels of experience with our school system and different levels of comfort participating. Some have had negative experiences and are hesitant to get involved, others are just so busy with complex home situations or economic struggles that they couldn’t participate even if they wanted to. This is another example of what I meant earlier when I said an open door isn’t always enough. But these are exactly the folks we need to bring into the conversation because it’s their voices that aren’t being heard, and oftentimes, it's their children who we as a school system struggle to serve. In my experience, we can lower barriers to participation by walking out our own doors and going to the stakeholders we need to include, going out into the community to places where stakeholders already are and engaging with them where they feel comfortable. We can hold multiple listening sessions in various places and at various times, to accommodate people’s work and family schedules. We can provide language interpretation if needed, childcare, snacks or even meals if that’s what’s necessary to get folks involved. We can remember to listen to our students. We can also offer trainings and capacity building sessions prior to decision-making discussions to enable parents, students, and other stakeholders to participate as equals. Authentic engagement ends up being a lot of work, but it’s good work and it’s worth it because the more diverse voices we can include, the better the solutions we arrive at will be, better thought out and more likely to meet the needs of all students and staff.
Through regular and ongoing engagement that allows a broad spectrum of stakeholders (including employee unions) to participate, collaborate, and share in decision making, CCUSD can do a much better job of meeting student, parent, educator, classified staff, and community needs and provide a truly exemplary educational experience for all of our students.
On November 8, 2022
for Culver City Unified
School District School Board
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