APEX Presentation Q&A Responses

Below are responses to the written questions submitted at the February 22, 2018 policy platform presentation event. Follow-up questions can be directed to Natalie Cook (natalie@unifi-ed.org).

Schools are socioeconomically and racially segregated because we have a district that is segregated. How/what steps should we take as a community to integrate across socioeconomic and racial categories?

We tend to think about this question in two ways: policy work and hearts/minds work. At the policy level, we need to work on educating our residents about our history, as well empowering them to activate in the policy realms that most interest them. In terms of segregation, we are talking about multiple sectors such as education, housing, and economic development. The hearts/mind work is inherently about relationship building, trust, and listening. We believe that both of these are important for our community to move forward. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

What would policies look like that could stop the practice of redlining?

We need to pressure our local banks to lend to people of color. Bank policies, programs and civil engagement can all help. (Response by Alea Tveit)   We can start having tough conversations in our community about our history of neighborhood segregation and redlining, especially around both de jure and de facto segregation. Additionally, we can start proactively participating in local housing and zoning policy. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

How will we incorporate parents in the process of integration? Because culture change requires them. What ways will we equip and empower parents to take part in this?

From the non-profit, organizing approach, UnifiEd can provide trainings and facilitation of community meetings across our diverse county. We can be more intentional about working with, and empowering parents, to be proactive change agents in this important work. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

What can individual community members do to directly cause change? What is the most effective way to change the situation on an individual level?

First, get informed. Nothing is more important than taking the time to understand an issue deeply from multiple perspectives. Second, find out what available organizations exist that work on the issue you care about and reach out to plug in to their work. Think about change as incremental; to touch just one person’s life is the foundation of community-wide change. Be humble, learn from others, and find where your skills overlap with your passion as you go! (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

We know that racial and economic diversity are best for schools, but we have very few mixed income neighborhoods, so how can we make this a reality?

Schools serve more than one neighborhood, so redrawing district lines could help integrate schools. Also, magnet programs played a role in integration, but were not entirely successful. HCDE’s new leadership is already designing a new plan, with school specialties and semi-open enrollment, to entice families to consider schools that aren’t necessarily the closest to home. (Response by Marie Dean)

How exactly are these initiatives promoted or advocated for?

UnifiEd would like to explore the controlled school choice model. In this work, schools become more specialized, parents still exercise choice, diversity is considered an important criteria for school assignment, and there are organizers and data specialists focused on addressing diversity and segregation. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

Explain what “restorative justice” means. Please elaborate and specifically explain how that’s done in schools.

I like this definition, “… an innovative approach to offending and inappropriate behavior which puts repairing harm done to relationships and people over and above the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment. A restorative approach in a school shifts the emphasis from managing behavior to focusing on the building, nurturing and repairing of relationships. (Hopkins, 2003, p. 3)” Read more about Restorative Justice (RJ) here: https://jprc.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/RJ_Literature-Review_20160217.pdf (Response by Alea Tveit) Important note about RP, research into RP and PBIS (a system that rewards positive behavior proactively, with a goal of decreasing the need for punishment) shows that while both systems reduce exclusionary discipline, only RP also closes the gap between white/Asian students (typically less excluded) and African American / Latinx students (typically more excluded). PBIS is behavioral, while RP is humanist. (Response by Marie Dean)

Two years ago, school board candidates campaigned about student-based budgeting, but since the elections, it hasn’t been mentioned, and steps don’t seem to be moving forward for this. Since this is a major way to improve equity, what can we do to advance these policies?

This would fit perfectly in Hamilton County. However, two things would need to take place. 1. The principal cannot have absolute power. There would need to be at least two others on school budget team (such as PTA President, assistant principal, and/or a top teacher) to agree on spending. 2. The central office must give up some control and to support their principals. The school budget team is more closely aligned with its school and neighborhood. (Response by Steve Slater)

Can it be possible to encourage walking to school? Make it safe, easy, and a good thing to do.

I love this idea but a challenge we may face is that it won’t address the inequity we see within our neighborhoods. Encouraging families to utilize their local school will start raising questions of perceived safety, racial and socio-economic segregation, and parent choice. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

The elected school board has one employee, the superintendent, who does not hire the teachers. How are the voters to hold elected officials responsible for school efficiency?

Great question! I think both voters (and non-voters like young people and immigrant communities) have tons of power to hold elected officials responsible. In addition to structured ways of demanding change (letters, phone calls, meetings, etc), you can also develop your own expertise and knowledge of an issue area. This would allow you to actively engage with other concerned residents to organize for change! We are powerful together and acting together draws attention, provides pressure, and creates momentum for elected officials to link what they are hearing to their concern for re-election. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

Why is the steering committee made up solely of women?

The Steering Committee is not comprised solely of women! We have 16 women and 10 men (we lost one member during the process for personal reasons) on the Steering Committee. We invite all Steering Committee members to any leadership opportunities and they self-select on availability and interest. (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

What is the role of the steering committee members?

The APEX Steering Committee members have been organizers, neighborhood leaders, and the voice of the community in the creation of a policy that addresses equity issues across Hamilton County’s education system. The Steering Committee has been composed of individuals that represent the diversity of identities and experiences in our county.  It has been the community partner to UnifiEd’s work to ensure transparency and accountability in our process of moving from community conversations to a proposed policy platform. Committee members worked alongside our team to ensure that the ideas and experiences of the community are represented fully in the demands we make to our elected officials. Role of the committee

  • Learn together with them about Hamilton County’s community and school history
  • Hear directly from them about their experiences with inequity
  • Talk honestly with people of diverse experiences and ideas to identify common issues
  • Facilitate conversations in their community and across communities about our schools
  • Build a policy that addresses the issues impacting our schools, while providing areas to hold our elected officials accountable within

Meet the members of the Steering Committee here > (Response pulled from UnifiEd website)

What were some specific differences that steering committee members saw between schools across the district during their school visits during this process?

I visited Brainerd High School and Nolan Elementary but I also have had a lot of time in the Signal Mountain Middle High School so that would be a better comparison with Brainerd. I graduated from Brainerd in 1969 and I was surprised to see that little or no maintenance had been done on it since then.  There was peeling paint on the windows and the covered walkways in the court yard. I don’t mean just a little here and there but major sheet of paint hanging off.  the entire place looked like it was on lock down at all times. As we walked through he building, every door we went through had to be unlocked. It reminded me more of a prison than a school.   By contrast SMMHS and Nolan are clean bright well maintained building and are much newer.  They should not be in the condition of Brainerd but also Brainerd should be better maintained.  If you go to school or to work, you are influenced by the place you learn or work in. If it is maintained well then you take more pride in it.   I visited a school in Orlando, Florida a couple of months ago.  It is a school built to replace an old dilapidated school like Brainerd and is an inner city poor school.  The old school was not cared for by the students because it was not cared for by the school system. The result was graffiti and damage through out the old building.  The new building which is bright and clean and shows pride in itself looks ass good today as it did over 5 years ago when it opened. The students that had no pride in the old building are now in this new building and they take care of it because the school system has pride in it and takes care of it.  There is also a different attitude of the students. They are happy to be there and it shows. I believe this pride of the students in the place they learn transfers to their desire and interest in learning.  You cannot place students in a sad place and expect their best. Think of your self. Would you want to work in a bright cheerful place or a run down gloomy dark office.   I was surprised to see an orderly school at Brainerd with students in class rooms trying to learn and teachers that clearly care about their students and are trying to find ways to help them learn.  This was true in both schools but more striking at Brainerd because of the bad publicity that Brainerd and all inner city poor schools receive. There were no fights or yelling at Brainerd like I had expected to see.  It was an orderly school with everyone trying to do their best under difficult conditions. At Brainerd I was there on a day when they were having award ceremonies for those students with high achievements the first 9 weeks. They do this to honor those students because they may not get much encouragement at home.  Parents were invited to this event where maybe 30 student were being rewarded but only 3 parents showed up. This is in sharp contrast to similar events at Nolan or SMMHS where it is difficult to find a parking space when you attend these events.  There may be many reasons a parent at Brainerd did not show up. They may need to work, they may not have transportation, they may not know about it, etc. The result is a feeling of less parent involvement. i did see vocational programs at Brainerd and that is not available at SMMHS and I think that is need in all schools. I did not see equity on display at the schools I visited. (Response by Dick Graham)

Regarding curriculum, climate, and culture: What conversations were focused on integrating a more culturally relevant curriculum that would drive and transform the climate and culture in schools? Who was involved?

From the community, topics were raised in the initial 2,600 EdTalk conversations we hosted across the county. We do not have a policy platform issue that asks for culturally relevant curriculum; the most similar is “Teaching and programs must provide personalized support, especially to those with special needs and minority identities (like English-language learners and LGBTQ+ students).” The emphasis on these identities was a result of community leaders we spoke with, including members of our Steering Committee. We look forward to seeing those working in our implementation phase, The Equity Collective, see this translating into action. Culturally relevant curriculum is likely to be proposed as a solution! (Response by Alexa LeBoeuf)

Comment: The stats on teachers pay has to take into account the “wealth” of the county. After all, the pay for teachers comes from local and state taxes.

As taxpayers, citizens and/or property owner we decide what we value. State rankings were released for 2018, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings. Here’s an example, Massachusetts ranks #1 in educational quality, #5 in crime and corrections but #45 in roads and infrastructure. Tennessee ranks #28 in education, #41 in crime and corrections and #15 in roads. I propose we decide to spend our tax dollars in different ways. If we invested more of our tax money in schools and teachers then I believe our crime would go down and we would see a happier healthier community. We can also advocate for tax increases for our schools. I think it’s one of the best investments we can make. (Response by Alea Tveit)

Does HCDE have an equity officer? What investments in equity has HCDE explicitly made?

Yes, Dr. Marsha Drake is the Chief Equity Officer appointed by Dr. Johnson. This is a big first step toward pursuing equity in our schools! Dr. Drake and her team have various initiatives in the works that will be announced publicly soon. (Response by Natalie Cook)

Note: The questions below are best answered by central office staff or school leadership rather than UnifiEd staff or APEX steering committee members. We are sharing them here for full transparency of the written questions submitted at the event, however we do not feel most qualified to respond. Thank you for your questions!

If what we truly want is equity, why are teachers in high-performing schools given so much more freedom in the ways they can implement curriculum, while izone/Ozone school teachers are micromanaged and given little freedom to meet their students’ needs creatively? What can we do to change this?

How can we help provide for the unique needs of at-risk children in poverty, in the face of far stricter academic requirements in those schools? For example, I spoke to a teacher who wanted to build community with her students through morning meetings, but she was afraid to get in trouble doing something “non-academic.”

How do ‘hardship’ students currently affect socioeconomic racial segregation? Do magnet or charter schools help or hinder?

How can teachers and students have a voice in the curriculum when their jobs and the grades (respectively) are tied to succeeding in the current scenario, regardless of equity?