Guilford School Culture Report Released

By By Ben Rayner • 02/08/2022 4:32 PM EST

A long-awaited report, commissioned by the Board of Education (BOE) on the curriculum and overall educational culture, was presented last week at the meeting of the Curriculum Instruction and Assessment Committee of the BOE. The report found both areas of success and concern, although generally pointed in the right direction.

The report on school culture and pedagogy in the Guilford School District was completed by a consultant, Dr. Donald Siler Ph.D. Guilford Schools commissioned Siler to conduct a “curriculum audit,” in September 2020, in coordination with the District’s English and Social Studies departments for Grades 5-12 to review the specific curriculum and how they teach it.

Siler said in the report that the goal was “part of Guilford’s overall effort to explore, better understand and improve the experiences and outcomes of minority students (Black students in particular) in the district and community. Through a series of student focus groups and individual interviews, I examined the role that school environment, curriculum, and pedagogy had on these specific students. »

Siler noted that overall, the Guilford teachers he interviewed and monitored were engaged and enthusiastic about sensitive cultural issues and already seemed to be implementing some aspects of what he usually recommends to others. districts during audits of their systems.

“One of the central, and most encouraging, themes that emerged was that teachers want this work to be done in a way that does not harm them or the students. There is a natural concern that approaching content in a less ‘neutral’ way could get them in trouble or hurt students,” Siler quoted in the report.

However, the report found that some GPS teachers have genuine concerns about “getting it wrong” when it comes to certain topics, and the pressure they feel to juggle the myriad of responsibilities they face. when teaching potentially dangerous or sensitive subjects. The report also concluded that the teachers they interviewed and monitored expressed the need for more administrative guidance on the methodology to use to prepare to teach sensitive topics in their classrooms.

BOE Chair Kathleen Balestracci said she looked forward to further discussions on what and how to best implement the report’s recommendations.

“I look forward to an in-depth discussion of how we as board members can really support this on multiple levels, as I believe we have an important role here in its ultimate success, without overstating our role… I think there are things about Dr. Siler’s report that really speak to a role that we have, whether it’s helping to support policy or other things,” said Balestracci at the meeting, “I, too, really like the idea of ​​using shop meetings for this, so that we can all together figure out how this work aligns.”

Findings regarding student culture and morale, particularly among minority students, have both positive and negative findings, the nuances of which are best understood by reading the actual report via the BOE site. Siler’s report is detailed in who and how the interviews were conducted and reports examples and student responses as a method of delineating the body of his report and his conclusions.

“They also expressed disappointment with what they saw as the district’s passive push for assimilation. For them, it would mean losing their language and their culture. A Hispanic/LatinX student proclaimed out loud, “I’m here, it’s mine!” in reference to the use of Latin music as a means of embracing their own culture. For black students, the consensus was about how they are perceived and treated as less intelligent and/or overly aggressive by their peers and teachers. They maintain that their experiences are constantly diminished and questioned and assumptions are made based on their origins and race. This, they said, came from teachers as well as peers.

However, the report pointed out that although minority students “noted a sense of isolation and indifference in specific incidents of bigotry,” and cited numerous concerns and issues facing students from all backgrounds, overall, students ‘like’ their schools, citing their relationships with their peers and the ‘caring staff’.

Siler said the recommendations include clearer administrative support, a clearer policy document, and increased teacher evaluations and retention efforts.

However, Siler noted that the district as a whole has a strong and motivated base supported by their programs.

“…GPS has already undertaken several equity initiatives. The district changed the high school’s mascot, issued statements affirming a focus on meeting the educational and social needs of all learners, and initiated curriculum and pedagogy reviews to make them more inclusive of marginalized voices and perspectives. . The district has also hired a Family Equity Liaison with experience and expertise that makes him a key ally in ongoing initiatives to better meet the needs of all Guilford students.

Siler ultimately concluded that with respect to GPS programming and curriculum, the school system has “a shared desire to develop an open and genuinely inclusive learning community that does not eschew issues of race, culture, bigotry or past injustices,” while also citing a need for the district to continue building on its current agenda.

The report further concludes: “There are several reasons to be optimistic about the future of inclusion and equity work in Guilford Public Schools. Teachers who have been involved in this process so far have shown initiative, eagerness and openness to make their content and classrooms more accessible and welcoming…Administrators and learning coaches also expressed their willingness to support and affirm the work of teachers. The district, at all levels, also sees equity as a concept that goes far beyond what happens in the classroom. »

The full report is available through the City of Guilford at www.ci.guilford.ct.us and the Board of Education at www.guilfordschools.org.

Carol C. Reed