In the pursuit of successful outcomes for all students, there is no finish line, but the Ceres Unified School District continues to evaluate and refine its systems and structures to drive meaningful progress.
“When we look at data as a school district and the results for one group of students don’t mirror the results of others,” said Deputy Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Amy Peterman, “it requires us to look internally at what our systems are designed to do, and who they’re designed to support, and make sure we’re meeting the needs of all students.”
Peterman oversees the district’s equity work – its focus on providing the unique resources each student needs to graduate high school prepared for long-term success. The CUSD Equity Cohort is one means of engaging educational partners in this work.
Now in its fourth year, the cohort is comprised of teachers, classified employees and administrators who examine data in areas such as grades, graduation rates, student discipline, and absenteeism. They dig into what it takes to change systems and they hear from panels of parents and students about their experiences in public education.
“You really have to be introspective and self-reflective to be open to having these conversations,” said Peterman. “What we think we know as educators isn’t always the shared experience of the people that we serve.”
Since its inception in 2019-20, the cohort has welcomed a new round of staff from five CUSD schools. This year, the final five of the district’s 20 schools come together.
After taking part in an early cohort, staff from Walter White Elementary School focused on building community on their campus through a variety of events and campaigns. The school culture clearly reflects a sense of inclusion and belonging, said Principal Dr. Reid Volk, but staff is now looking at what comes next.
“We’re realizing that the real way we’re bringing about an equitable environment is by refining and reforming our instructional practices – weaving them into how we do business every day,” he said.
A comprehensive change that has come about is an overhaul of the grading system to better reflect students’ grasp of standards and skills based on measurable objectives. It is a system rooted in clear expectations, with opportunities to recover from low scores or missed assignments, said Peterman.
“It’s not about lowering expectations,” she clarified. “It’s about having a grading system that ensures we’re looking at evidence of student learning rather than whether or not a student is able to be successful in a system that they may or may not have control over. There are barriers that kids have in their lives that have nothing to do with whether or not they want to be good students.”
Volk feels standards-based grading empowers students to take ownership of learning as they focus less on grades and more on mastering skills needed to succeed in college and career.
“They can identify areas where they’re struggling and what they need to do to improve.”
Feedback from the Equity Cohort also prompted the district to launch a Youth Advisory Council offering high school students a seat at the table with school and district leaders. The district already holds advisory meetings with groups of parents and staff.
“Our equity work really gives us more opportunities to listen rather than tell,” said Peterman.