Kyrene School District officials last week unveiled an exhaustive study of equity in the way students of different races and ethnic backgrounds perform academically and how they are disciplined.
The bottom line is that Kyrene officials still have a lot of work cut out for them.
“While our students are performing better than their peers, they still are performing with significant gaps between the different groupings of children,” said Susie Ostmeyer, director of research and evaluation for the district.
Walking the school board through pages of data so it could “understand the systemic factors that exist which may impact equity,” Ostmeyer characterized the statistics as “clearly illustrating that our gaps in student performance are seen across our students when defined by race.”
Superintendent Jan Vesely reminded the board and the audience that the equity-planning process is aimed at “ensuring that effective teaching is occurring in every classroom and closing those achievement gaps.”
“Equity work is a district-wide responsibility that should be embedded in every function of a school district,” Vesely also said, adding:
“Kyrene is serious about closing the achievement gap and discipline gaps and through our strategic plan, we have outlined and identified both strategies that we will pursue and how we’ll put those strategies into action.
“Kyrene’s commitment to equity and inclusion involves building system-wide practices and comprehensive professional development to impact lasting change so that we can close the achievement gap and discipline gaps and better serve our students.”
Ostmeyer said it was critical to examine achievement among different racial and ethnic groups because “if we don’t, we run the risk of not seeing where variance actually occurs, and when we can’t see the variance, we cannot attend to it.”
Of the district’s approximate 16,700 students, 44 percent are Caucasian, 29 percent are Hispanic and 11 percent are Black. The remainder are either Asian, Native American or multiple.
But among teachers, 88 percent are Caucasian while 9 percent are Hispanic and 1 percent are Black.
That disparity may partially explain why the percentages of Black and Hispanic student suspensions are higher than Whites. “We continue to see disproportionality with our black and Hispanic students” among suspensions, Ostmeyer said.
Conversely, the percentages of academically achieving Hispanic and Black students are lower when compared to Whites and Asians.
Ostmeyer said that in analyzing the district’s teaching staff, the data suggest the district has hired more teachers of color in recent years.
And while Ostmeyer said the district will make even more aggressive efforts to recruit non-White teachers, the national shortage of teachers may frustrate the attempt.
“We were trying to target areas where universities had a higher minority population,” Mark Knight, assistant superintendent for human resources, told the board.
But, he added, “the last couple times we tried that, we came back with zero people because of the national teacher shortage. We’re now doing more in-house job fairs, which are very successful, but we’re not seeing a shift in that teacher diversity index….There’s a lot of work to do.”
Board members had varying reactions to the study.
While praising the overall district analysis, Michelle Fahy said she wants to see more detail on racial disparities among individual schools as well as more analysis of student achievement in English Language Arts, since Ostmeyer’s examination involved only math.
“I would like to see this data down to the school level because my guess is, is that some schools have a different level of need or issue than others,” Fahy said.
Noting the help state Rep. Jill Norgaard provided in securing more effective teaching assistance for dyslexic students, board member Michael Myrick wondered if local legislators could be enlisted in the effort to help address equity issues.
Board member Bernadette Coggin noted that prior to Vesely’s appointment, the amount of attention paid to equity issues depended on how interested an individual principal might be in tackling them.
That no longer is the case, Vesely indicated.
“Our most vulnerable students – low income and minority students as well as English language learners and students with disabilities – must have access to the teachers and administrators who can provide them with the best opportunities for success,” she said.
“Equity gaps exist in every school in every school district. School leaders have the responsibility to know where those gaps exist. We must use our data to understand the systemic factors that exist which may impact equity.”
She also said the district’s strategic plan is aimed at many equity issues by removing “discipline bias” through more training, encouraging “positive behavior intervention” and maintaining “a relentless focus on sub-group-level metrics and accountability that focus on closing achievement gaps.”
She also noted the district already is implementing an array of services both inside and outside the classroom to address the wide variety of factors that can influence student performance, from tutoring and summer programming to enhanced in-house teacher training to even ensuring that the district can “meet the basic needs of our children by including meals and reducing school transitions from housing changes.”
“These are all examples of different strategies that are embedded in our strategic plan that focus on addressing school-based factors,” Vesely added. “Psychological and emotional factors may occur in and out of school. Kyrene fosters community accountability through shared leadership by joining together the voices of students, parents, teachers and business leaders.”