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Equity plans: San Luis Coastal works to ensure all students have the same opportunity for success 

Rick Mayfield has been working in schools for about 33 years. He said for 12 of those years, he had the unique position of being a principal for Pacheco Elementary School, which has a dual emersion program for kindergarten through sixth grade. The school offers a program that merges English and Spanish together in all academic and social aspects of the school day. Students receive instruction half in English and half in Spanish, so students eventually become fluent and literate in both.

Mayfield's work has always focused on being able to give students of different backgrounds the same resources to attain academic achievement. Ensuring that all students have what they need and have the same opportunities to succeed district-wide is called equity, which Mayfield is now spearheading throughout the San Luis Coastal Unified School District as the district's director of learning and achievement.

He said that currently every school district is looking at achievement gaps and how to close them. The gap is defined by academic performance among students in different socioeconomic statuses, races, ethnicities, and genders.

"One of the things that has come to light in the last, and it's been a while, probably several years, is equity—looking at how to even the playing field and give students what they need to be successful," Mayfield said.

Equity wasn't always a top priority in the classroom. It used to be that teachers and schools presented the day's curriculum and material to students, he said, and the rest was up to the students.

"A shift has occurred in education over the last decade because it had been just the idea that we are responsible for their learning not just the teaching," he said. "We can't just say, 'Hey you had the opportunity to learn: I taught the lesson, and you had the opportunity to learn just like everybody else.'"

The biggest realization for school districts everywhere, Mayfield said, is that not everyone has an equal opportunity.

The district developed an equity leadership team that includes teachers, classified staff, board members, Cal Poly personnel from the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity, an ethnic studies professor, and parents. Mayfield said the team created a three to five year plan of how the district can educate the community on equity, opening doors, and civil dialogue.

Currently, San Luis Coastal is looking at different ways to measure the areas where equity is needed and whether future practices work for students. It will be measured by the percentage of students who finish high school, who are college and career ready, who take AP classes, and school attendance to name a few.

In order to get faculty and staff up to speed on the various types of equity practices, the district brought in equity consultant Trudy Arriaga. She specializes in articulating the language, beliefs, policies, and practices that support all learners. She promotes a values-based, inside-out approach for embracing cultural differences as well as understanding the tools and strategies needed to embed cultural proficiency into organizational culture. Arriaga defines culture in this context as all aspects of a person, such as gender and race.

She does all this by looking at the district's mission statement, its goals, protocols, procedures, and practices.

"It's not about doing more, it's about doing everything you already do with a lens of equity," Arriaga said.

Some questions that a district should be asking itself, she said, are whether walking into a classroom is welcoming for every student, resources are available for every student, and the attitudes and value system of the district ensure that every student—regardless of who they are—belongs there.

Arriaga has been working with school districts all over the country and she said San Luis Coastal has really dived into implementing equity in its everyday work.

"It's very clear that they have made this a priority for the district, and it is a district where 'all' means all," she said.

According to a state report card released by the California Department of Education on Dec. 6, 1 in 3 districts statewide have been identified as needing help when it comes to equity. Using its new online tool, the California School Dashboard, the state identified 374 districts out of approximately 1,000 as needing special assistance to deliver that opportunity for students.

The dashboard is a district performance review that displays chronic absenteeism, suspension rate, graduation rate, mathematics, and English language arts, among other things.

School districts that qualified for assistance had low scores in some categories that placed them in the red zone—red and orange are the worst scores, yellow is in the middle, green is good, and blue is proficient. Many of San Luis Coastal's scores fell in the green, while the district hit blue for its graduation rate.

"I think by us creating a plan and looking deeply at this question of equity that we're going to see a tremendous turn around, and we are going to see the closing of the achievement gap," Mayfield said. "Now it's going to take some time ... but we're going about it the right way."Δ

Staff writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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