Equity, Racism & Diversity Report - April 2021
Hunterdon Central is an innovative educational community dedicated to the intellectual, social, and emotional safety and growth of all students. While fostering curiosity and promoting wellness, we aspire to create powerful learning experiences, establish strong partnerships, and serve as contributing members of society.
Letter to the Board of Education from Jeffrey Moore, Ed.D.:
It is a self-evident truth that we are each only as safe as our neighbor. Our fates are joined together, not just here in school, or in our state, or across our nation, but over the face of the entire globe.
Public education has always been a proving ground for that notion. Our enterprise is novel in human history, informed by the sharing of uniquely American blessings and ideals through collaboration, care, and compassion. Yet, public education can still suffer from long-embedded racism and bias, despite the best intentions of all who work in and with schools. We do not see, and we cannot solve, unless we look, talk, and act. The conversations can be uncomfortable, but are nonetheless necessary.
This report examines bias at Hunterdon Central and recommends next steps. We have already made progress, but we must not falter if we are to fulfill our mission for each of our students.
When we do this work, we are aware that there is always more to do. But we have enormous capacity, talent, and passion. By necessity, we must devote special energies to some. However, this in no way detracts from our efforts for each and all.
Jeffrey Moore, Ed.D.
A Context for Critical Work
Mission and Mandate
Hunterdon Central’s mission promises a home to each of our students, where intellectual, social, and emotional safety work together to ensure a vibrant, nurturing, and empowering environment for growth.
In such an environment, bias and racism blight human growth and threaten the fulfillment not only of our mission, but of the deep-seated and uniquely American goals of comprehensive public education.
Schools, like all institutions, operate within a complex system of rules, mandates, and regulations in which the decisions of policy-makers are sometimes distant in both time and context from the school staff who implement them. In such a system, forces of bias, discrimination, and prejudice can exert disruption, delay, and even trauma, despite the best intentions of individual frontline decision-makers. High schools, and in particular regional high schools that do not have direct control over K-8 programs, are uniquely susceptible.
The philosophies underpinning American public education have always imagined schools as the laboratories that develop solutions to tomorrow’s problems. However, we find our students more and more connected to, affected by, and working to resolve today’s problems. We saw a striking example of this in the summer of 2020, when students from the county’s high schools led peaceful protests against the needless deaths of Black Americans.
New Jersey’s curriculum standards and other mandates guide schools on standing beside their students in a call to “emphasize the personal responsibility that each citizen bears to fight racism and hatred whenever and wherever it happens” (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-28). New Jersey law has chartered commissions such as the Amistad Commission and the Commission on Holocaust Education to ensure that instruction in New Jersey’s schools celebrates the contributions of all people and provides instruction on anti-racism. Additional laws require instruction on the history and contributions of Disabled and LGBTQ+ Americans. These content and skills weave throughout New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards.
Schools must also respond to incidents of bias and racism, and report suspected bias incidents to law enforcement for evaluation as potential bias crimes. In addition, schools must investigate and report on incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying, in which race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, and other categories represent distinguishing characteristics of victims. In many situations, law requires schools to act on incidents that occur outside of school and on social media.
Most recently, the New Jersey Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias called for comprehensive anti-bias education for all students, and comprehensive training for all school staff members. Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 188 requires all schools to implement the task force’s recommendations.
At the local level, the Hunterdon Central Regional High School Board of Education convened an Ad Hoc Racism, Equity, and Diversity Committee in the fall of 2020, and assigned four Board of Education members to work with the Superintendent and other administrators and staff, including anti-racism committees from the Hunterdon Central Education Association and the Hunterdon Central Administrators Association, and community members. This allowed for the rapid initiation of community conversations with groups of students, parents, staff, community members, and other stakeholders. In addition, the Board of Education committee provided a mechanism for drafting and approving supporting policies. In later sections, this report will discuss two specific policy changes that were critical.
The Hunterdon Central Community
Hunterdon Central has been experiencing increasing diversity. Our Latinx student population, for example, has grown from 9% in 2017-2018 to 13% today. Students of color now represent nearly one in four of Central’s students. See Figure 1, below.
In addition, Hunterdon Central is home to students with disabilities, with a special education classification rate of roughly 18%. LGBTQ+ students and staff work and learn at Hunterdon Central, as do students from homes in which family members speak nearly 40 different languages. Students and staff members represent many world religions, countries of origin, and more. Large numbers of students and staff move through our community as members of minority, marginalized, and potentially marginalized populations. Some students and staff identify and express themselves as members of multiple such populations.
Our community struggles, as all communities struggle, against forces of racism, bias, and privilege as we seek to provide equitable access to the fulfillment of our mission for each of our students. We have seen incidents of bias and racism in social media, through our own telecommunications technology, and through student interactions on campus. Though recent and high-profile incidents have victimized Black students in particular, students from many different groups have been victims of such incidents over the past several years.
In spite of these struggles, Hunterdon Central’s community is one in which youth are empowered to care for themselves and one another. These students work with staff members who are eager to participate in collaborative solution-making as we all face, together, the poisons of bias and racism.
Institutional bias, however, can still exist despite educators, students, and families working to build a better community. School policies and procedures demand constant examination to ensure that privilege and bias do not curtail access to growth and success for any student. Without such deliberate and regular examination, a school of innovative and compassionate educators may still prolong inequities and widen gaps.
In the work to close gaps and address bias, we declare that it is a fallacy to say that Hunterdon Central takes care of those who are wounded in this moment at the expense of others. The compassion, dedication, and desire to fulfill our mission for each of our students is boundless.
In addition, we recognize that the suffering of any one member of our community is not only detrimental to our efforts, but an urgent crisis threatening to derail all of our community’s work.
Gaps, Mitigations, and Recommendations
Hunterdon Central’s comprehensive program offers an enormous amount of choice, but still harbors some traditionalist vestiges of tracking and leveling. The district has made progress in offering alternatives to honors and Advanced Placement capstone opportunities through magnet programs and dual enrollment courses. However, tracking can begin for students well before 9th grade, resulting in skills and content deficits that are impossible to close in the four short years of a high school career.
Table 1, below, summarizes proportionality of various racial/ethnic groups across Central’s most accelerated programs during the benchmark year of 2019-2020.
The table shows clear disproportionalities. For example, Black students represented 2.8% of the population at the start of that school year, but only 1.9% of Honors students and 2.0% of Advanced Placement students. We are not surprised to see the highest percentage (2.7%) in alternative capstones of dual enrollment and magnet programs courses, which were developed with specific intent to close these gaps.
The same disproportionalities occurred for Latinx students in 2019-2020. Again, we see the most success in our own alternative capstones.
Mitigations continue in each academic department, with efforts focused on dismantling course leveling that widens opportunity gaps throughout a student’s high school career. We couple this work with broader assessment that will allow for more finely-tuned identification of students who can succeed in accelerated courses even though they might not have taken traditional pre-requisite courses. We will also continue the implementation of new capstone opportunities, including dual enrollment courses and magnet programs.
The goal is not to limit the number of participants through a quota, but rather to broaden participation with an eye toward more diverse populations within our most compelling courses and programs.
Lack of access to an accelerated academic program results, predictably, in lower student achievement for impacted populations. Hunterdon Central shows clear and long-standing achievement gaps in state testing, going back many years, with Black and Latinx students scoring lower on average than students in other demographic groups. Our K-8 partners show the same achievement gaps.
Though there was no state testing in 2019-2020, and none will occur in 2020-2021, we have seen achievement gaps mirrored in other measurements from the past two school years. This year, the district began utilizing an online benchmarking system. Students took a mid-year benchmark assessment in February of 2021, which revealed familiar gaps in the average performance of students across different racial/ethnic groups. See Figure 2 and Figure 3, below, for these averages.
We see the same gaps reflected in various examinations of course grades. During the first months of the pandemic, we measured shifts in grades from the beginning of our move to remote instruction in March 2020 to the posting of final grades in June 2020. Black and Latinx students saw higher average grade slippage. See Figure 4, below.
In April, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Education required all school districts to file achievement data from the 2020-2021 school year. Hunterdon Central took a snapshot of course grades in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science at the end of February.
Disaggregating those data, we see the same achievement gaps for Black and Latinx students. Table 2, below, details an overrepresentation of both groups in the population of students who were performing below grade level at that point in the school year.
Black students are 3.2% of the population this school year, but were 6.8%, 6.2%, and 5.5% of the students performing below grade level in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science, respectively. Latinx students also experienced a steep disproportionality. At 13% of the population, they were 22.1%, 21.8%, and 23.6% of students performing below grade level in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science, respectively.
In the short term, for these particular students who are lagging behind their peers, we are planning to utilize both outside and local funding to close achievement gaps through individualized tutoring and assistance, much of which will occur over the summer. We will have another opportunity to measure lagging performance in the New Jersey Department of Education’s “Start Strong” assessments, which will be administered in the fall. We will also continue to utilize our own benchmark assessment system to facilitate in-time analysis by teachers and supervisors.
In the long term, increased articulation with K-8s, combined with our own efforts to close opportunity gaps discussed in the previous section will, we believe, yield results in higher academic achievement.
Our Counseling Services Department has long been the tip of the spear on the evolving support needs of our students. The department is now engaged in training with specialists from Rutgers University to recognize and address race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) arising from bias. To our knowledge, this may be the first such RBTS program for school counselors in our region, if not beyond. Rutgers has been engaged in assessment and research in the development of this unique and new program for our counselors.
In the 2019-2020 school year, Counseling Services began tracking all interactions with students. The practice was refined and continued into this school year. Counselors track each visit with each student, and classify the interaction as an individual or group meeting that focuses on academic, college/career, or social/emotional concerns. Removing repeat visits with the same students, we arrive at a measurement of grade-level counselor engagement with students across these categories. See Table 3, below, for a summary of these engagements.
The largest disproportionality is with our Latinx students. Though they are 13% of our population, they have accounted for only 6.6% of college and career engagements with grade-level counselors. The Counseling Services Department is working to close this and other identified gaps through additional counseling activities this school year, and will engage in curriculum development over the summer to provide more opportunities for individual counseling, particularly college and career counseling.
Student Efficacy through Unions and Alliances
Students across various minority and marginalized populations specifically requested support in the form of affinity groups. The Office of the Dean of Students, which includes our Supervisor of Extracurricular Activities, worked with students to charter a Black Student Union, a Latinx Alliance, and an Asian Student Alliance. These groups join others that have been in place for some time, including affinity groups for LGBTQ+ students.
The goals of this effort are to facilitate student celebration of diversity and activism, provide students with community, and offer students additional avenues to give feedback to the administration. Club advisors have received training to help in the achievement of these goals. Evaluation efforts will utilize focus groups, interviews, and other qualitative methods to measure impact.
Work is also underway to encourage these separate groups to join together into advisory, action, and celebratory efforts. We are working with students and staff to determine the best structures for these efforts, whether through existing groups (like Student Council, the Multicultural Club, or Sources of Strength) or new panels and summits. These efforts are also poised to move into athletics, through the Student Athlete Leadership Team.
Discipline Against Bias
Several bias incidents occurred this school year, leading to a realization that the school’s discipline policy was not a sufficient deterrent. Nor was it positioned to provide adequate restorative opportunities. In one of its first acts, our Board of Education Ad Hoc Racism, Equity, and Diversity Committee recommended a policy change that elevated bias incidents to the top tier of discipline, requiring the most serious consequences. The Board of Education approved that change through a unanimous vote.
In order to successfully implement this policy, the Acting Principal and Vice Principals began work to overhaul bias incident reporting procedures and protocols. In this effort, they engaged a consultant who had law enforcement and bias incident experience. With new reporting mechanisms in place, cooperation with law enforcement is tightening.
Examination of allegations of bias through the lens of Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) shows varying but potentially troubling trends over the past several years. Figure 5, below, summarizes these trends by describing proportions of HIB allegations, from the 2016-2017 school year to the present, targeting different categories of distinguishing characteristics.
The overall concern is a declining trend of HIB allegations focusing on the “Other” distinguishing characteristic criteria and focusing more on distinguishing characteristics aligning to bias. We see spikes in HIB allegations focusing on sexual orientation, gender, and gender expression and identity, as well as an increasing trend in allegations focusing on race and national origin. Among the allegations focusing on race and national origin, we have primarily seen allegations of HIBs that victimize Asian, Black, and Latinx students.
Eighty-eight HIB allegations were considered for this analysis, though they are unevenly distributed across the examined school years. The 2020-2021 school year is not yet over, and is also a unique year with disrupted attendance.
Despite those potentially confounding facts, we include this year’s HIB allegations to highlight that the majority of them, to date, have focused on race.
The most effective mitigation for bias incidents and HIBs, we believe, is through capacity-raising education for students and staff. This training must reach into K-8 grades, as well as take place in high school.
Discipline as Bias
We do not examine infractions only from the point of view of punishing bias, but also examine discipline as an experience that, itself, can perpetuate bias. The Hunterdon Central discipline code divides infractions into four tiers. Most discipline infractions occur at the first tier (e.g., student ID, cell phone, and lateness violations). While these are not serious infractions in the sense of the consequences they invite, they can accumulate, leading to “revolving door” discipline that not only piles disruptive and negative experience upon students, but also graduates into the second tier with more serious consequences on the basis of recidivism.
Taking a snapshot of discipline for tier one infractions from two uninterrupted school years (2017-2018 and 2018-2019), we see a familiar disproportionality. Figure 6, below, summarizes the distribution of these infractions.
Recalling that, this school year, Black students are 3.2% of the population and Latinx students are 13.0% of the population, note that these groups had disproportionately higher experience with tier one discipline infractions across the two studied school years.
Restorative practice is a discipline framework that allows students to make amends to their community, rather than face (or in addition to facing) only punitive consequences. In restorative practice, a student may engage in multiple activities to understand rules and consequences, feel more welcome as opposed to cast out, and develop positive relationships with peers and adults at school. In short, it is a discipline framework that promotes healing and belonging.
As a mitigation for disproportionality in low-level discipline infractions, restorative practice has a long history in schools across the country. Hunterdon Central is currently working to create ways in which restorative practice can provide alternative (or at least more constructive) ways for perpetrators of tier one infractions to make amends. The goal is to create pathways for students to move forward through constructive, collaborative consequences, rather than a series of decontextualized punishments, like after-school and lunch detentions.
Imagine the student who consistently forgets his or her student ID. While this is behavior that we cannot condone from a security perspective, processing these offenses as a coldly cause-and-effect discipline infractions is not optimal. A student from a minority or marginalized population who receives such automated responses to a student ID violation, for example, also potentially receives reinforcement of their anonymity, their “otherness”, and their lack of belonging.
This report brings various data into an examination of bias at Hunterdon Central. Some of that bias expresses itself as explicit action against others, as in bias incidents. Bias also expresses itself as long-active policy and procedure that perpetuates disproportionalities and widens gaps.
Our data are currently limited to the student demographics traditionally tracked by the New Jersey Department of Education. The story that those data tell is one of multidimensional bias that impacts our students, particularly our Black and Latinx students.
With these limited data, however, we are not able to capture the experience of all minority and marginalized populations. There is no measurement, for example, of the academic success of LGBTQ+ students. We do not advocate recording student sexual preference or other qualities for such disaggregation, but we must note that we are blind to some experience without separate and deliberate effort.
The following summarizes this reports assertions and recommendations:
There is disproportionality in student participation in our most compelling programs and courses, with underrepresentation of Black and Latinx students apparent in the data that we have.
- Departmental goals must continue to examine mitigations through leveling, placement, and alternative capstone opportunities.
- Articulation with K-8 partners must work to uncover and stem any roots of disproportionality in younger grades.
Examination of achievement gaps consistently show lags in the scores of Black and Latinx students.
- Common assessment development must continue in order to provide the best and most detailed information on student achievement.
- Supports must become more responsive and personalized to identify and close specific learning gaps in real-time, rather than in a reactionary format.
Bias creates trauma and other needs for specialized support from Counseling Services, including examination and closing of service gaps like those discovered for Black and Latinx students through an examination of data on counseling engagements, and those we learn of for students in other marginalized and minority populations.
- Race-based traumatic stress training must continue to grow capacity in Counseling Services, and beyond.
- Counselors must continue to track engagements with students to find and close service gaps, both in the short term and to inform longer-range curriculum revision.
Affinity groups are known to provide voice, efficacy, and community for students in minority and marginalized populations.
- Training and goals-setting must continue to support student unions and other affinity groups.
- Affinity groups must continue to explore opportunities to work together to continue to champion a broader celebration of diversity.
Discipline codes can support efforts to stamp out bias incidents, but can also result in bias, such as the overrepresentation of Black and Latinx students experiencing tier one discipline.
- Partnership with law enforcement and others must continue to support district efforts to prevent bias incidents, respond to those incidents that occur, and provide best opportunities for healing and growth of victims and perpetrators.
- Restorative practice must redefine student interactions with our discipline code, particularly at tier one.
In addition to the recommendations above, we must assert that continued conversations are crucial to the widening of our lens to see all that we need to see while doing this work. The Board of Education’s Ad Hoc Racism, Equity, and Diversity Committee has been a start to those conversations. They must continue to expand.
Training of staff and education of students about racism and other forms of bias is not only an additional and effective way to continue conversations, but also meets state mandates for comprehensive bias training for staff and students. Bias training for staff this school year spurred calls for smaller-scale conversations focused on mutual support, practical application, and deeper learning. Next steps in staff training will aspire to meet those three goals.
The Board of Education has made several important policy changes. Aside from the change to our discipline policy described in an earlier section of this report, racism received special attention in the Board of Education’s policy on the teaching of controversial issues. That policy now protects educators who must engage with students and with one another in learning about bias, racism, and anti-racism in fulfillment of educational responsibilities, including fulfillment of mandates in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. As we endeavor to meet our legal and ethical mandates, we cannot be forced to see racism as a “debatable” topic.
Though realistic about the breadth and depth of this work, we proceed with the abiding belief that this is one of the most important things that we do, as we strive to fulfill our mission for each of our students and live up to the ideals that are the foundation of our profession.