Monday, March 25, 2024

Questions from the Press, March 25, 2024, Equity Centered Student Schedules.

On Thursday, March 14th, the Sonoma Valley Unified Board of Trustees received an information item on changes to our schedules at our middle and high schools. The discussion on equity-centered student schedules highlighted a transformative approach aimed at enhancing fairness and inclusivity within the educational framework of Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS), Creekside High School, and our middle schools. The presentation, led by Dr. Christina Casillas along with Principals Molly Kiss and Elizabeth ("Liz") Liscum, outlined a strategic shift towards schedules that accommodate the diverse needs and interests of all students, emphasizing the critical importance of offering a broad spectrum of electives and ensuring that the composition of AP classes reflects the diversity of the student body. Dr. Casillas underscored the commitment that "schedules should be based on student interest and student need," aiming to align the educational offerings more closely with students' aspirations and potential.

Public comment further enriched the discourse, with educators and community members voicing support for the initiative while also raising concerns about practical implementation aspects, such as the need for adequate funding and staffing to sustain the expanded elective options. Laura Hoban, co-union president, particularly highlighted the popularity of farm-to-table classes, stressing the necessity of instructional assistance to ensure these classes' success. 

In essence, the move towards equity-centered schedules at SVHS, Creekside, and our middle schools represents a significant step forward in creating a more inclusive and responsive educational environment. By prioritizing student interests, diversifying elective offerings, and addressing scheduling equity, the District aims to foster a learning atmosphere where every student has the opportunity to excel and pursue their passions. This shift is grounded in the belief that our scheduling approach can profoundly impact students' academic and personal growth, contributing to a more equitable and vibrant school community.

Below, I answer questions from the Sonoma Index-Tribune/Santa Rosa Press Democrat regarding the course. Photo is of Margie, enjoying some froyo. 

1. What were your general impressions of the presentation and discussion regarding equity centered student schedules at the last board meeting?

The presentation on equity-centered student schedules conveyed a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to redesigning school schedules to better meet the diverse needs of all students in the Sonoma Valley High Schools and Middle Schools. The focus on student-centered scheduling, as discussed by Dr. Christina Casillas, our Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, and principals from Sonoma Valley High School and Creekside, emphasized a commitment to reflect on the school's visions, values, and beliefs. It highlighted the extensive process involving professional learning, community engagement, and iterative planning to ensure schedules support all students, especially those requiring interventions, electives based on interest, and multilingual learners. 

The mention of adjusting schedules to comply with state requirements while aiming to release students early for extracurricular or personal obligations showcased an intent to balance educational mandates with students' holistic needs. I was particularly cognizant of Trustee Winders’ underscoring the civil rights implications of equitable scheduling, highlighting the transformative potential of these changes on students’ access to diverse learning opportunities and their ability to find their passion in elective subjects.

2. How do you define equity centered schedules?

My understanding from the presentation is that equity-centered schedules are designed to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, abilities, or needs, have equal access to quality educational experiences, support services, and opportunities to pursue their interests. These schedules are crafted with a deliberate focus on dismantling barriers that prevent equitable participation and achievement. They incorporate elements such as interventions for students needing additional support, access to a wide range of electives reflecting student interests, and provisions for multilingual and special education learners. 

The goal is to create a learning environment where every student, especially those historically marginalized, can succeed academically and personally. As outlined by Dr. Casillas, equity-centered schedules aim to reflect the diversity of the student body in class compositions, adhere to instructional minutes with flexibility, and integrate social-emotional learning to promote a sense of belonging among all students.

3. Why and in what ways aren’t school schedules equitable currently at a) SVHS high schools and b) SVHS middle schools?

The current scheduling system in our high schools does not fully accommodate the diverse needs of our student body, particularly for students requiring special education services, English learners, and those from marginalized communities. The presentation highlighted a desire for schedules to allow for interventions, access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and elective offerings based on student interests. Trustee Winders’ pointed out how the previous scheduling model limited students with disabilities from participating in elective courses, a critical area for excelling outside traditional academic subjects. The limited access to elective courses due to scheduling constraints represents a significant equity issue, denying students the opportunity to explore diverse interests and potential career paths.

In our middle schools, the inequity in schedules similarly manifests through a lack of sufficient opportunities for students to engage in electives and interventions tailored to their interests and academic needs. The move towards a seven-period day aims to address these disparities by offering more elective choices and ensuring interventions for students who need extra support, such as English language learners and those requiring academic support. The emphasis on providing electives based on student requests, as Dr. Casillas mentioned, signifies an effort to make the middle school experience more inclusive and responsive to student interests, promoting a more equitable educational environment where students have the freedom to explore and develop their passions.

4. Why is it important to offer equity centered student schedules?

It acknowledges and addresses the diverse needs, interests, and backgrounds of all students, ensuring that every student has access to quality education and opportunities to explore their passions. These schedules prioritize the removal of systemic barriers to educational access and success, especially for marginalized and underrepresented students. As highlighted in the presentation and discussion, integrating equity into scheduling practices aligns with a broader commitment to civil rights, ensuring that educational opportunities are not just available but are also equitable and inclusive. This approach supports social-emotional learning, promotes belonging, and prepares students for a more diverse and global society by reflecting the student body's diversity in class compositions and offerings.

5. Will implementing equity centered student schedules offer students more opportunities to take electives? If so, what classes will they no longer take?

Implementing equity-centered student schedules will offer students more opportunities to take electives that align with their interests and passions. By restructuring the schedule to include more periods and block scheduling, students can access a wider range of elective courses without sacrificing core academic requirements or interventions. For example, the shift to a seven-period day in middle schools expands elective offerings, allowing students to explore new areas such as fitness, rhythm and beats, and Spanish classes. These changes may reduce the need for students to take multiple intervention classes simultaneously, providing them with the flexibility to enroll in electives they previously had to forego due to scheduling constraints. Consequently, students will have a more balanced and enriching school experience, focusing not just on academic achievements but also on personal growth and exploration.

6. What groups of students will benefit most by offering these schedules in a) SVHS high schools and b) SVHS middle schools?

All students across our schools stand to gain from the implementation of equity-centered schedules. At its core, a schedule serves as a fundamental mechanism for distributing limited resources, specifically teacher time and attention, across various subjects to meet our students' diverse needs. When any group of students' needs are unmet, the institution as a whole fails to address the entire community effectively. Among the feedback we, as trustees, receive concerning our schools, a recurring theme stands out: the imperative obligation we carry to ensure that every student is afforded the chance to realize their full potential. This principle underpins the drive towards equity-centered scheduling, emphasizing that the success of our educational system is measured by the empowerment and inclusion of every student within our educational community. By adopting schedules that prioritize equity, we commit to a more inclusive, responsive, and effective educational environment where every student can find the support, opportunity, and encouragement needed to unlock their unique potential.

7. How will other school programming be affected by offering equity centered schedules?

By focusing on a more inclusive and responsive allocation of time and resources, these schedules require a review of existing. This might lead to expanded intervention programs, enhanced support for multilingual learners, and increased emphasis on social-emotional learning within the curriculum. Additionally, it could stimulate innovation, such as integrated learning experiences and interdisciplinary projects, to maximize educational outcomes within the available instructional time. The shift towards equity-centered scheduling thus acts as a catalyst for broader educational reform, encouraging schools to reevaluate and potentially reconfigure to better serve the needs of our student body.

8. Do you feel that electives should be offered based only on student preferences?

Elective courses offer students the opportunity to explore interests, develop new skills, and engage with subjects that might not be covered in the core curriculum. Student choice is important in creating an engaging and relevant educational experience, in the context of the school’s responsibility to provide a balanced curriculum that exposes students to a broad range of disciplines and perspectives. This includes courses in the arts, technology, physical education, and career and technical education (CTE), that are essential for a well-rounded education. 

9. It seems that the school district will need to hire new teachers to teach some of the new electives. Will this require the district to simply have more teachers, or will it result in some teachers losing their jobs?

Introducing new electives involves optimizing the current teaching staff's skills and potentially providing professional development to help empower educators in new subjects and teaching methods. The goal is to enhance the curriculum, encouraging a dynamic and flexible teaching environment that responds to student interests, by enriching our educational offerings through careful planning and resource management, so in short, no.

10. Do you foresee problems in accommodating all needs and preferences of students during each school day?

Our schedule requires thoughtful planning, that often necessitates compromise. The reality of budget constraints means that not every preference can be accommodated to the fullest extent desired, leading to a continuing dialogue with students and families to manage expectations. We’re always seeking ways to refine the scheduling process to better serve the community.

11. Do you think zero periods should be available to students? Why or why not?

If zero periods can be offered in a way that is truly discretionary, without inadvertently pressuring students to extend their school day to remain competitive or meet graduation requirements, they can serve as a positive addition to the school schedule. However, their implementation should be carefully considered, weighing the potential benefits against the impact on student wellness, including adequate sleep and work-life balance.

12. Will any groups of students be negatively impacted by these schedules?

Each student has a unique set of strengths and challenges they bring to our schools, and our schedule will in some cases play to or coincide with either, for the exact same student. That change is the core concern we must manage as an institution, through robust support systems and through the flexibility to address individual concerns as they arise.

13. During public comment, one caller seemed to think it is more critical to put more emphasis on teaching basics rather than offer electives. What is your opinion about that?

The balance between teaching the core and offering electives is a holistic approach to education that recognizes the diverse needs and potentials of students. Focusing solely on one or the other does not fully address the broad spectrum of student abilities, interests, and future aspirations. Electives foster a well-rounded education, allowing students to explore interests, develop specialized skills, and cultivate passions that can lead to emergent career paths. Electives also often encourage engagement by students, enhancing overall academic motivation and success. Integrating both the core and a rich array of electives, within equity-centered schedules, ensures that education is about nurturing well-prepared, curious, and versatile individuals ready to thrive in a complex world.

14. How will equity centered schedules impact the schools involved, in general?

 We are aiming to create a more inclusive and responsive educational environment that better aligns with the diverse needs of our student body. By prioritizing access to a wide range of courses and ensuring that scheduling does not inadvertently limit student choices or opportunities, these schedules support the goal of providing a balanced and comprehensive education to all students. The impact on schools involves a shift towards more collaborative and flexible planning processes, where student voice and fairness considerations play a central role in decision-making. This can lead to a more engaged and motivated student body, as students feel seen and supported in pursuing both their academic and extracurricular interests. Furthermore, equity-centered scheduling can contribute to closing the achievement gap by ensuring that all students have access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, thereby fostering a more equitable and just learning environment.

15. Would you like to say anything else?

No, thank you.