During its May meeting on Tuesday, the Spring ISD Board of Trustees heard a presentation from Cambridge Education, which has partnered with the district on its equity study to ensure excellent, equitable outcomes for all students.
Specifically, the group conducted a survey, focus groups and interviews as part of that work earlier this year. On Tuesday, trustees heard the results, including the data and themes that emerged, as well as opportunities and challenges for the district.
“You have right now a community of people who are ready to do this work,” said Chris Finn, a senior education specialist for Cambridge Education. “The next two to five years in Spring ISD can be pivotal.”
Finn praised the district for moving forward with its equity study in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic and emphasized the importance of a shared commitment toward addressing any obstacles or barriers to student success.
“Most stakeholders value the district’s diversity and welcome an examination of equity across school, policies and practices,” he said.
Finn was joined by Carron Staple, an educational consultant with Cambridge Education, in presenting the preliminary findings of the equity study to the Board. That work includes interviews with 26 district leaders, 21 focus groups, eight virtual school visits, and the distribution of surveys to district staff, parents and students, as well as the collection of more than 100 data sheets and documents.
Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson said the district’s commitment to equity is intended to ensure that real progress is made. Last year, the Board of Trustees issued an equity statement and the district launched an Equity Steering Committee to help guide the work and to ensure a diversity of perspectives.
“I wanted to do more than just have a conversation,” Watson said.
Cambridge Education was hired by the district to not only study performance and trends in areas such as discipline and educational outcomes, but also underlying root causes and institutional structures that might be unintentionally contributing to those outcomes.
Among the findings shared on Tuesday were several bright spots, including survey results that showed students feel safe and respected by their peers and teachers, and that the district’s schools of choice have high expectations and effectively prepare students for college and careers.
Cambridge Education also noted that the district’s role in training school leaders by partnering with The Holdsworth Center for leadership training is creating a cohort of “more experienced and better-prepared school leaders.”
The district is also doing a good job of providing schools with the quantitative data and tools that they need to make effective decisions. Another area of success is the district’s work with family and community engagement and collaboration with advisory committees that promote inclusion. In a survey of staff, 75% of respondents agreed that “meeting the needs of our diverse community is built into all of our school planning and practices.”
Areas of challenge for the district include inconsistency around providing social-emotional teaching and learning; lack of counseling in some schools to address issues beyond academics; low expectations for English Language Learners on some campuses; and the disproportionate discipline of African American male students, who are also being referred to special education at higher rates than other student groups.
“Our recommendation is to conduct culturally relevant professional development with school leaders and teachers on implicit bias and assumptions about students of color and their behaviors,” said Finn. “Require all schools to infuse restorative justice practices into their discipline policies to support the decrease of student referrals and out-of-school suspensions.”
Trustees said Cambridge Education’s findings provide an opportunity to reflect, discuss and most importantly, act so that progress can be made.
“I don’t want to just talk about it tonight,” said Trustee Justine Durant, “I want to do something about it.”
The board is already considering Cambridge Education’s recommendations to add more social-emotional learning into the schools, as well as hire more at-risk counselors. The trustees also pledged to work on implementing other policies that will help move the district forward in its goal of ensuring excellent, equitable outcomes for all students, including giving new teachers more support and professional development.
Watson said district officials will work with Cambridge Education and the Equity Steering Committee to determine next steps.