The district has many efforts underway this year aimed to support inclusive learning environments and address concerns regarding culture and equity in our school district. This work is our passion and is THE work to which not only the staff embraces, but the community as well. As such, we have engaged in critical conversations this year and important work to continue to move our schools forward and find successes for all students.
Some of this work includes efforts made in the Title VI program, the formation and efforts of a Culture and Equity Design Team, continued evolution of the English Language Development Program, increased access to translation services, and additions of critical staff roles to support students, families and staff along the way.
TITLE VI PROGRAM
Central to our Title VI program is our Native American Parental Advisory Committee (NAPAC).
The purpose of NAPAC is to guide Title VI staff and District Administration in developing, operating and evaluating Native American Programing for Title VI students. NAPAC families set meaningful grant objectives.
- Objective 1: Increase knowledge of cultural identity and awareness.
- Objective 2: Enhance problem solving and cognitive skills development and directly support attainment of State standards.
- Objective 3: Increase parent participation.
The district has a Native American Cultural Liaison, which would be funded through Title VI Federal Funds. The liaisons’ primary focus this year has been to build relationships with students and families. Additionally, the district partners with mentors and tutors from Fort Lewis College to continue to support program needs and relationships with families.
CULTURE AND EQUITY DESIGN TEAM
The Culture and Equity Design Team is composed of 19 members from all stakeholder groups, including staff, families, students and community members. The team is tasked with recommending policies, programs, and practices that would better meet the Durango School District 9-R mission of “guaranteeing equitable educational opportunities in a safe and healthy environment”. The team is specifically addressing the opportunity gap between minority and non-minority students.
This work began in the fall of 2020, starting with developing an understanding of the issues through interviews with students and parents and quantitative and qualitative data analysis. From January through March, teams met in subgroups focused on one of four different focus areas: professional development, hiring practices and policies, district-wide culture and environment, and English Language Learners.
Next steps for this group involve further prioritizing recommendations for district leadership and providing input to support the future work of the Board of Education's equity committee.
Important to note that the executive team has reviewed recommendations from the Culture and Equity Design Team throughout the year and immediately implemented several of the recommendations: improved translation, adjustments to the job fair interview questions to include an equity statement, improved communication within the ItsLearning platform, recommendations for additional staffing to support diverse populations.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST WORK
This work is focused on establishing and maintaining individual coaching and a series of monthly English language development Professional Development (PD) sessions focused on practical, applicable strategies to support the language and literacy growth of students at intermediate English language proficiency levels, which represents 72% of ELL students in grades 2-12 at this time.
As part of district improvement goals, the district provided targeted PD for middle school content area teachers focused on developing language and literacy in the content area classroom through students discourse, shared cognitive routines, and meaningful engagement with text. The district also provided PD to support teachers in three buildings who were working with students who recently arrived from other countries and are just beginning their English language learning journey. Additionally, in response to district data, the district is designing research-based programs at the secondary level to address the unique needs of students identified as English language learners who still qualify for the ELD program, despite being in U.S. schools for more than 6 years.
In addition to the contracted translation services with fluent speakers in the community to support both written and spoken translation needs as well as phone translators, the district also created a guidance document and shared it with building leaders, called Communicating with Families in Their Home Language: Which translation/ interpretation format should you use? Additionally, the district introduced a new translation tool called Talking Points as a resource to facilitate basic two-way text communication between families and teachers in languages other than English. This resource has been successful in promoting relationship-building and the ability to communicate briefly about day-to-day topics of interest to parents and teachers. There are also simultaneous English-Spanish interpretation services available in more district meetings via Zoom.
OTHER WORK UNDERWAY
In addition to this great work that has been underway, the district has identified new positions for the 2021/22 school year, meant to continue to enhance language access and understanding as well as strengthen relationships with families and students. These positions include:
- Social Worker – Bilingual in English/Spanish
- Parent/Guardian School Liaison Bilingual in English and Spanish
- Title VI Native American Parent/Guardian School Liaison
- Parent/Guardian School Liaison
- Director of Student Support with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion
The district continues to look at policies and practices in an effort to remove unintended barriers to the educational program, including but not limited to providing after school activity transportation, a school supply list overhaul to reduce the burden on families, and a review of curriculum and resources to ensure our learning embodies diversity, equity and inclusion in the learning environment. Professional development continues to remain an important focus for this work as well.
Education is at the heart of social justice as we are a huge player in determining the type of key that children will hold in their hands as adults in our society. As educators, our goal is to ensure every child holds a key that opens any door they choose. We have a lot of great work underway and plan to provide regular updates, as well as opportunities for our community to get involved, as we continue to work toward a common goal of inclusive education and endless opportunities for all students.