The San Ramon Valley school board received an update Tuesday on the district's budding effort to focus on culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning.
"(The program) is about the skills that we give our teachers to validate and affirm kids, no matter where they're coming from," said Kirby Hoy, the school district's director of instructional services. "When it comes right down to it, you validate and affirm students and build that bridge, that is when learning can really happen."
Goals of the initiative include increasing student engagement, reducing disproportionality and strengthening all relationships within the schools, Hoy said during a presentation at the school board meeting in Danville on Tuesday night.
"(It) is about going where the students are culturally and linguistically for the purpose of bring them where they need to be academically," he added. "Our goal here is to connect with where those kids are coming from, and when you do that, the kids are going to be inspired to learn."
The effort began with district-wide staff training in March 2013 led by Sharroky Hollie, Ph.D., an educator, author and executive director at the Center of Culturally Responsive Training and Learning.
In the time since, small groups of teachers and staff from select San Ramon Valley schools have met and trained with coaches and mentors from Hollie's team in order to implement the strategies in their classrooms and become prepared to advise their peers in the future.
"As part of this cohort, I was able to gain specific engagement strategies and literacy strategies applicable for my kids. Not just for third-graders out there, but for my kids specifically," said Erin Whitbred, third-grade teacher at Quail Run Elementary School in San Ramon.
"I felt supported, and I started to understand that culture doesn't fit a box and that culture is fluid dependent on each classroom," she told the school board.
Staff members within the cohorts receive team professional development, initial baseline assessments, demo lessons and individual coaching, according to Hoy.
The responsive teaching effort, in part, aims to have instructors think more deeply about issues such as their unconscious biases, teaching methods and strategies for interacting with all types of students.
"It makes all of us grow. It makes all of us change and look at ourselves and our biases differently," board vice president Denise Jennison said. "The staff at all the different sites that have been through the training so far are clearly embracing the work."
Officials hope the effort will help address discipline situations at schools, and the disproportionate data that the district has seen in its discipline cases, Hoy said.
"I looked at a school recently where 100% of the suspensions were boys," he said. "One of the things (the program) really focuses on -- and this applies to all students, but particularly boys -- is students need to be moving … and that's again helping our kids stay engaged."
Hoy said one district middle school reported that its discipline referrals have been reduced 65% largely because of the responsive teaching effort.
"Instead of booting that kid, it's validate, affirm and build a bridge to help that kid 'code-switch,' so that they learn that there are certain behaviors that aren't necessarily wrong, just inappropriate for school," he added.
The district has 24 schools involved in the cohort trainings or scheduled to receive the sessions, according to Kirby, who said his hopes to have all 35 schools involved by next May and to sustain the work moving forward.
In other business Tuesday:
* The school board unanimously approved extending the contracts of the district's chief business officer and three assistant superintendents through June 30, 2016.
The addendum to the contract of Gary Black, assistant superintendent for facilities and operations, included a 5% increase in annual salary to $211,709 -- a regular increase based on his years of service, according to district spokesman Terry Koehne.
* Board members approved a declaration of need for fully qualified educators for the 2014-15 school year, which must be lodged with the state prior to applying for any emergency teaching permits, according to assistant superintendent Jessica Romeo.
"Although we hope to never have to use this declaration ... this protects us in case something happens during the school year -- someone goes out on leave or so forth -- where we would have to either apply for a waiver, limited assignment or emergency credentials," Romeo said.
The district said it could require emergency permits for English-learner instructors, bilingual teachers for Spanish and Mandarin, resource specialists and teachers in library services next year. In its declaration, the district also estimated it could need limited assignment permits for two multiple-subject teachers, 12 single-subject teachers and 12 special education teachers.
* The board also reviewed recommended revisions to the policy and administrative regulation covering drug- and alcohol-testing for district employees subject to commercial driver's license requirements, such as bus drivers.
The proposed changes include prohibiting such drivers from drinking alcohol within eight hours of reporting to work (double the previous time-frame) and requiring drivers to have a blood-alcohol concentration less than 0.01 (twice as stringent as the prior threshold).
The revisions were discussion-only items Tuesday. Final consideration is tentatively set for the May 20 board meeting.
* Next Wednesday (May 14) will be Day of the Teacher across the district. Board members also adopted a resolution declaring May 18-24 as Classified School Employee Week.