From the sound of its name, an outsider would never know Paradise Valley Unified School District has worked hard – and still struggles a bit – to overcome minority student achievement gap issues.
When Arizonans think of Paradise Valley, they think of that ritzy ‘burb that features pricey houses with gorgeous views and lots of acreage – not the 100-square-mile north Valley school district where 37 percent of the kids are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.
But PVUSD is a great place to look at when one wants to understand the challenges teachers and administrators face when community demographics change. In the last decade, schools that once served white, middle-class kids have started serving students who speak little English and whose parents struggle daily to get meals on the table. Seemingly overnight, parent-teacher conferences were less about how Sally is doing on spelling and more about helping Salma’s parents understand the basics of how their child’s school operates.
Creative ways to teach English learners
I recently attended the Arizona School Board Association’s 2016 Equity Event and heard PV Superintendent Jim Lee talk about how teachers and administrators in his 45 schools work to make students of all ethnic and economic backgrounds feel included.
Lee also is president of the national Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of multiracial, suburban-urban school districts that share ways to identify and work to eliminate achievement gaps in their schools.
The first step, Lee said at the Arizona conference, is self-examination.
Everyone is biased
What are your biases? Where do they come from?
“In our training we encourage people to reflect on how they were brought up and what their belief system is,” he said.
“Everyone has deep-seated biases. We don’t even realize our biases. That is the hard part.”
While it might be unrealistic to overcome all deep-seated biases, teachers and administrators who have taken time out to examine their own prejudices tend to be better, fairer educators.
A female football kicker overcomes preconceptions
A student who spoke on a panel that I moderated at the Equity Event is a great example of what can be achieved with the help of a her father, a coach, and other adults who did not let history or preconceptions get in the way of her success.
Tempe Marcos de Niza High School student Krysten Muir is a record-breaking kicker on the school’s varsity football team. A Tempe and Arizona first.
Want to know more about what her school, coaches and teammates say about her success? Click here for a video.