NUSD hires help for improved equity

Lack of equity has been an ongoing problem for the Novato Unified School District (NUSD). To address this, Superintendent Jan La Torre-Derby hired Dr. Anthony Muhammad in August of 2020, for the second time, to help with the district’s equity issues. In his audit of all NUSD schools, he found that there was a lot of work to be done. After a long process of reviewing and analyzing data NUSD and San Marin are ready to take action.

Once a middle school teacher and principal, Muhammad turned to equity after his principal position at a blue ribbon school in Detroit. Despite his work being complex he sees himself as a thought leader in the educational community.

“In every field they have what are called thought leaders. People who push the thinking of a profession. In summary, that’s basically what I do,” Muhammad said.

His work with schools has led him to write multiple books and become a moving speaker. Equity is often seen as very intricate to others, but Muhammad believes it can instead be viewed as being humane and can be explained simply.

“It means giving each individual person what they need to meet the goal or objective you have for everyone…It’s not about being smart or not smart, or capable and incapable. Everybody’s needs are different…It means to support based upon the needs of the individual” Muhammad said.

Charley Conner
Two hispanic students expressed the way their culture is represented on a ceiling tile in Swedlow’s classroom.

On the other hand, equity in schools may seem daunting to some because it takes self analysis. A singular mindset is simply easier than change. Yet, NUSD has confronted this challenge and has taken steps to make all NUSD schools a more equitable environment for students. Despite the amount of work that this requires, NUSD and San Marin staff are excited for his help. One of the many is La Torre-Derby who grew up as an immigrant child herself. She describes equity as her life work.

Along with hiring Muhammad and his equity audits of the schools, NUSD has created a board policy, equity teacher leadership teams in schools, an ethnic studies curriculum, and more. NUSD has also defined both equity and equality to differentiate the two. According to NUSD’s equity imperative, “Equality education is achieved when students are treated the same and have access to similar resources.” On the other hand, equity differs in that, “Equity education is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school.”

After the audits, Muhammad had a few main recommendations for NUSD. One being that NUSD should be more strategic in gathering and analyzing evidence and be more transparent about their equity issues.

“Sometimes when you don’t want to face reality or a certain unpleasant reality, you don’t look for it. There are some unpleasant realities in your [NUSD] data in student performance… You can’t respond to something if you’re not aware,” Muhammad said. “If you don’t acknowledge it, it’s like it does not exist. Everybody should be aware from students to teachers. If you’re not aware you can’t act upon it.”

Specific to San Marin, he found that the STEM and Biotech programs had huge amounts of disproportionality, it did not reflect the student population and were heavily represented by Caucasian and Asian students. Moreover, the AP classes, while in policy work to provide access to these classes, need more encouragement of diverse students to enroll in them.

San Marin has been participating in NUSD’s strive for equity, but staff have also been doing work for San Marin, specifically to make the school more equitable. Students might see more interventions during tutorial, math testing to provide more data to the staff, a wellness hub, and a mentorship program. Despite the work being done, there is still much more to do.

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