With constantly evolving demographics that lead to racial, socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic diversity, the Princeton Public Schools district is trying to adapt and examine their practices and policies to ensure a welcoming and engaging environment for its community.
At a board meeting on November 14th, Superintendent Steve Cochrane, revealed plans for an Equity Audit to be implemented in January that aims to improve equity for district families and students through a survey that reassesses processes that contribute to inequity in achievement, daily experience, and curriculum.
“An audit sounds somewhat clinical but this is a process that is deeply personal, and one that allows people to talk about their ideas and ideals on difficult topics,” said Cochrane.
An equity audit is a collection of data that is taken from and affects all parts of the school or district and defines areas of improvement. Equity audits work to examine persistent inequities internal to schools and districts through self-awareness and fundamental changes in mindset and curriculum
Results and data will be summarized in a report detailing areas of strength, areas of potential improvement for the district, and future steps that can be taken.
Marceline DuBose, an instructor at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota who has previously worked with educators to develop “culturally responsive” teaching as part of St. Mary’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Program, will create this survey. The program strives to increase academic equity through teaching skills and practices needed to address individual and institutional self-awareness, attitudes and beliefs, and cultural insensitivity.
DuBose’s professional experience will be utilized at a professional development day with a focus on cultural responsiveness in the classroom.
“In addition to the focus groups and the surveys, [DuBose] is also going to be spending a full day with all of the curriculum supervisors to talk to them about how to look at their curriculum through the lens of equity … We will begin to uncover more things about our curriculum that we can change to make it more of an equitable exposure for our students,” said Cochrane.
The main focus of the survey is currently projected to focus on achievement and equity in the day-to-day experience of students and families as well as policies that can contribute to equity or those that exacerbate injustice in the district. Moreover, it will further the movement toward a culturally relevant curriculum that reflects student body diversity and will emphasize the role of students and families in influencing what happens in the classroom.
“One of the things we want to find out is, are we making sure we’re meeting everyone, not just some people? Are we meeting academic needs—because those in many ways are two different things. Do we possess the amount of cultural confidence necessary, and [does] our [curriculum] reflect that we value people from all different backgrounds?” said Jason Burr, Principal at John Witherspoon Middle School.
Focus groups led by DuBose, including one held on December 4, gathered students, families, and staff experiences to add to survey results and provide complete perspectives in topics like sense of belonging and how well education prepares each student to be an active in social justice. The Equity Audit will also include a review of discrepancies in disciplinary measures, graduation rates, and course placement.
“[The focus groups] made me realize how … my peers and I fit in and how some of us don’t or aren’t able to. Talking to other people in the same situation helped me a lot in that aspect because some people don’t feel comfortable talking about that topic or know how to approach it,” said Stephanie Ramirez ’20.
Students emphasized their support for a more culturally relevant curriculum that helps spread a deeper knowledge of what inequity is.
“Awareness in education in classrooms is really important; we should be treating classes as both a social and education environment so that everyone in the school has awareness, not just those who are seeking an understanding of inequity,” said Khadeeja Qureshi ’19.
Overall, both students and staff voiced support for the Equity Audit, viewing it as a valuable way to gain input from underrepresented and unheard perspectives in the district community.
“I like the fact that as a district we’re trying to improve who we are and what we do…. it’s important that we do make sure we hear from all the different voices,” said Malachi Wood, a PHS French teacher. “As a person who belongs to one set of race, religion, country of origin and so forth, it’s very difficult to know what [others’] experiences are or what could be done to improve it without talking to [them] in a frank and open way.”