Thursday, July 18, 2024

The first day of kindergarten at Somerville’s Arthur D. Healey School in 2006. (Photo: Tracy Rolling via Flickr)

All year-two educators in Somerville’s school district will get training around anti-bias and antiracist teaching, said Caeli Gallitano, director of equity and excellence for Somerville Public Schools.

The plans were presented at a Nov. 6 meeting of the School Committee and expanded on later by Gallitano after superintendent Rubén Carmona cited district data when giving what seemed like a concerning statistic: Low-income kindergarten and pre-K students come in January of each year with a 0.2 percent difference from other kids in language acquisition and literacy and scientific and mathematical thinking – and by June, the difference worsens to 2 to 3 points.

Looking at that data, Carmona said coaches may not be enough, and changes to curriculum may be needed.

Gallitano, now in her second year as director though she has worked in the district for eight, said she was not “deeply familiar” with the data Carmona cited. But Gallitano said she aims to implement more professional development so staff will understand the need to create equitable spaces.

“The importance of creating spaces of equity and safety for our students, staff and families is beyond just being a requirement for the state or the district,” Gallitano said during the meeting. “We do this work for our students.”

Gallitano said she and her team plan to measure the impact of the professional development and resources provided to staff through data analytics, attendance figures, reports from students and staff on “sense of belonging” and test scores.

“My background is in social work, and one of the things when working with human beings is it is a lot easier to look at qualitative data,” Gallitano said. “How people are feeling is not an easy, tangible thing to measure.”

To get “tangible” data on how the district is making progress on being inclusive for students and staff across backgrounds, Gallitano said her department – founded six years ago –  is considering conducting an equity audit in the near future.

Such audits aim to study where gaps to access and challenges to educational equity exist within a school district. Gallitano said such a study might be useful as “in many ways, numbers do not lie” and it could inform the areas within the district her department may want to focus on.

The idea of an equity audit stirred some controversy at the meeting. Ward 4 city councilor Andre Green said he is “historically averse” to equity audits, which he said are often a “cop-out” for districts.

“The results are oftentimes things that they could have just as easily asked any of their black and brown constituents about their experiences,” Green said.

Adding professional development could still fail to address more systemic issues, Green said.

“Fundamentally, this equity is not a matter of coaching or training. This is not an educator failure, this is a system problem,” Green said. “While I appreciate all we can do to prepare our educators, that’s not why we have inequities. We have these inequities because of decades, if not centuries, of policy choices and system design. I’d really like us to put energy into identifying what we are structurally doing wrong.”

Gallitano said her department was founded out of the district’s desire to expand work being done at the high school to a district level, including using restorative practices, talk circles and resource groups.

“I don’t think that the professional development was born out of problems within the district,” Gallitano said. “I think it was born more out of this district’s desire to continue to grow and be inclusive, and expand on the wonderful work already being done.”