SMMUSD staff tackles disparity issues in all district schools

The beginnings of a multi-year plan addressing the disparity in educational achievement among African American, Latino, white and Asian K-12 students was proposed to members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education on Thursday, May 21.

Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of educational services for SMMUSD, gave a presentation using statistical data of educational performance between those ethnic groups at all SMMUSD schools.

Issues raised during the presentation were those of college preparedness, enrollment in advanced placement classes, grade point average, dropout rates and others.

The average GPA of African American and Latino students were 2.5 and 2.6, respectively, compared to 3.2 for white students and 3.2 for Asian students, according to Deloria’s data. The data also showed African American and Latino students enroll much less in Advanced Placement (AP) classes than their white counterparts.

At Malibu High School, 91 percent of students are white, while only 10 percent are Latino and two percent are African American, according to the school’s demographics.

Deloria said the board’s hurdle is trying to keep up with small changes and take them to a system-wide level.

“Probably more difficult is changing adults’ mindsets [and] getting everybody thinking in the same direction that we’re the ones responsible for student learning and if a student doesn’t learn, it’s on us,” Deloria said. “That’s difficult work to do and it takes time.”

Deloria’s presentation outlined what the schools in the district were already doing to help solve the achievement gap, and also gave suggestions to the board as to what can be done moving forward.

The data did not only show disparities in education. Deloria’s research found that Latino and African American students were not meeting fitness standards when compared to white students.

Several attendees spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, many to give their approval of the program. However, some community members were not satisfied with the plan brought forth by SMMUSD staff.

Tynesha Williams, mother of a student attending Santa Monica High School, focused more on the what the data presented suggested about a student’s psychological well-being.

“I feel like this program is putting a label on my kid that is not helping his self-esteem,” Williams said. “It’s telling him that he is different, that he is incapable of achieving like the other kids, and he needs to be pulled out for several hours a day … and be separated from the other students.”

Joan Krenik, member of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council, was complimentary of SMMUSD staff and showed faith in their research.

“I believe [the SMMUSD staff] are best positioned to evaluate the options that will complement the existing programs and recommend next steps,” Krenik said. “I urge you to follow their guidance.”

Board member Craig Foster, a Malibu resident, sympathized with the members of the community who were displeased with the data presented by SMMUSD staff, and said the achievement gap was not going to be fixed overnight.

“I’m extraordinary happy with the intervention that we’re putting in place,” Foster said. “We really are doing great things. This is not moving the desk chairs around. This is making substantive changes to the way our children are going to learn.”

At the beginning of the meeting, several retirees who worked with the district were honored by the board. Highlights from their careers were read and those who were in attendance received rounds of applause from the audience.

Several former employees of Malibu schools were honored, including track coach John Cary, former assistant principle Wendy Wax Gellis, library assistant Denise Peak, founding member of the Shark Fund Maureen Bradford, and others.

The next SMMUSD board meeting will be held at 4 p.m Wednesday, May 27, in the district office.