A Model of Equity in Silicon Valley
Menlo Park City School District’s overall academic record is impressive, with all four of its schools scoring consistently among the top 5% of schools in California. However, they have a persistent racial achievement gap for their small population of Latino and African American students, an issue prevalent throughout Silicon Valley.
MPCSD is one in seven Silicon Valley districts in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, a court-ordered desegregation program allowing transfer students from East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood School District, historically home to low-income African American and Latino residents. Unfortunately, students transferred into Menlo Park have actually performed worse than their peers who remained in their under-resourced home district.
These gaps are more than just a matter of resources or access. Schools in Menlo Park needed better preparation to meet the needs of these students.
In 2009, then Superintendent Ken Ranella partnered with the National Equity Project out of a sense of urgency to make progress on equity before his planned retirement in 2011. We facilitated a Listening Campaign to support the community to have honest conversations about what it would really take to foster equity in the district.
Turnover among top administrators can undermine district reform and equity efforts, but not in Menlo Park. The new Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, well-versed in organizational development and innovation, and with a strong commitment to equity, was pleased to find strong work in place.
“I am excited to continue to work with the National Equity Project to design and build systems that enable continuous learning and progress toward high achievement for vulnerable students,” said Ghysels. “Our goal is for this work to become part of the district’s DNA over the next ten years, so the work sustains indefinitely.”
Our continued support has helped teachers, school leaders and district leaders integrate the use of inquiry cycles across all levels of their system. This year MPCSD has begun an exciting collaboration with Stanford University’s d.school: Institute of Design to integrate design thinking with inquiry into the district’s work, further positioning the district as a model for innovation toward equity.
We have supported MPCSD with a wide range of support since 2009, from the district level to the school sites, including:
- Leadership seminars and executive coaching for Superintendent, cabinet, principals and board
- District-wide equity goal-setting and equity teams at each school
- Inquiry teams across the system (teacher, school, district)
- Coaching of inquiry teams at schools to shift instruction and assessment to better meet the needs of all students.
- District-level learning teams on core values and beliefs, finances, assessment, and English Learners
An external evaluation of our work in Menlo Park found our support:
- Embedded individual school improvement efforts into a larger district initiative
- Cultivated district leader commitment to equity in targeted and integrated ways
- Shifted educators’ perspectives toward an asset-based view of students and families situated furthest from opportunity
- Leveraged flexible implementation and coaching strategies to tailor support to staff capacity.