NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools is launching “a comprehensive initiative designed to examine and address educational equity in Norwalk,” according to a press release. Starting immediately, the district is partnering with Temple University Associate Professor Edward Fergus, Ph. D., on an eight-month project that will include implicit bias and diversity training.
NPS says the project will involve four phases of work:
- An examination of disproportionate representation that looks at where children of color are under-represented or over-represented in programs and situations
- A community survey and focus groups
- Presentations to the Norwalk community on findings
- Recommendations; and equity literacy development of district leadership
“Recent events across the country have put issues of systemic racism and discrimination in the spotlight,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella said in the press release. “The wonderful diversity of our students and this community is one of the reasons that drew me to my new role here in Norwalk, but every community still has its own unique issues and challenges. It is critical that we develop a deep qualitative and quantitative understanding of the Norwalk educational experience to inform effective change in our district.”
“We need to start by hearing from all our constituents – students, parents, staff and the community – about their experiences related to education,” Dr.Estrella added. “These are difficult conversations, so we are fortunate to have the expertise of Dr. Fergus to guide our ‘listening and learning’ tour.”
Fergus is an applied researcher, associate professor of Urban Education and Policy and co-director of the Center for Assessment and Evaluation.
“His work explores the effects of educational policy and practice as it intersects the lives of populations living in vulnerable conditions,” Temple states. “More specifically, his policy work extrapolates the relationship between discipline codes of conduct, gifted program practice, and academic referral processes and the educational outcomes of low-income and racial/ethnic minority student populations. This work also outlines policy and practice changes in order for schools to develop as protective environments for vulnerable populations.”
He also consulting on these policy and practice changes with state departments of education and the U.S. Department of Justice, Temple said.
“Phase 1 of the initiative will include a comprehensive examination of the community’s perception of educational equity needs and their experiences in Norwalk. Through September, more than 24 focus groups will gather impressions from parents, students, school and district staff, and community members. Some focus groups will be specific to topics such as early childhood, discipline practices and staff diversity, while others will be centered around general education issues. Surveys of school staff, students, and parents and the community will also be conducted.
“Over the course of the project, members of the Norwalk Board of Education will participate in three sessions to explore themes around “Building a District Equity Lens.” The Board will review school district disparity patterns, social justice root causes, and discuss equity and culturally relevant practices in education. The first session will take place at the Board’s annual planning retreat at the end of July.”
“The Board of Education is committed to focusing on equity, using data to identify the areas where we need to improve in serving our Black students and all students of color,” Board of Education Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux is quoted as saying. “This initiative is a critical step towards identifying underlying issues as well as opportunities for making sure that all students have the same opportunities to succeed. It will also lay the foundation for work that will be underway in 2020-21 on the District’s next Strategic Operating Plan.”
The resultant recommendations will also include plans for a year-long program of professional development for employees that will focus on strategies for reducing implicit bias-based beliefs, NPS states, continuing:
“The Collective Impact Opportunity Fund at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has committed to funding the Norwalk Educational Equity Initiative. This invitation-only Fund makes grants to public agencies and non-profit organizations striving to close educational, workforce and other opportunity gaps among children, youth and families in Connecticut.
“The district’s efforts to pursue more equitable student outcomes will also be supported by Norwalk ACTS, a not-for-profit, cross-sector cradle to career partnership made up of over 100 community and civic leaders, educators, organizations and individuals, and the Connecticut RISE Network, a non-profit organization that partners with public school districts and educators throughout the state to help students succeed in and beyond high school.”
“I am grateful to the Board of Education, as well as the Collective Impact Opportunity Fund, Norwalk ACTS and the Connecticut RISE Network, for their support of this initiative,” Estrella is quoted as saying. “Our work on the education side will also compliment the actions announced as part of the City of Norwalk’s Equity and Justice for All Commission. Together, we can accelerate student achievement, ensure equity and excellence for all, and engage the entire community in the success of our students.”