Durango School District 9-R has chosen a book, “Opening Doors,” to serve as a guide to aid cultural proficiency among teachers and administrators, as it seeks to close academic achievement gaps of Hispanic, Native American and Black students.
The book is written by Trudy Arriaga, dean of equity and outreach in the Educational Leadership Department in the Graduate School of Education at California Lutheran University.
Arriaga spent 14 years as superintendent of Ventura Unified School District in Ventura, California, a school district in which almost 54% of students are Hispanic and 17% of students are English language learners.
One attractive attribute of the book is that it contains case studies about efforts that worked to boost academic performance of students from racial and ethnic minorities in the Ventura school district, said Laura Galido, 9-R director of human resources and acting superintendent.
“What’s interesting about this book is that she’s laid out a template for changing a system,” Galido said in announcing the book’s selection last week to the 9-R school board.
The first use of the book will be a joint reading of it by 9-R’s leadership team, school leaders, selected educators and school board members. They will use it to reflect on the district’s own structures, practices and policies to ensure 9-R is providing learning opportunities for students from all cultural backgrounds.
“The story shared in the book, ‘Opening Doors,’ demonstrated that the work ultimately resulted in gains in assessment scores, graduation rates, attendance rates and many other areas that are indicators of success in education,” Galido said in an email.
“We will use this to guide our reflection, and to help lead us through our reflection, on our current process, policies and systems to ensure that we are not unintentionally participating in practices that inhibit student success,” she said.
Like most school districts across the country, 9-R has identified academic underperformance among students from racial and ethnic minorities, and has long been working to close those gaps, variously called achievement gaps or opportunity gaps by educators.
“The district and staff are aware of gaps in how our students perform, and the lack of positive movement for those students who are not achieving as highly as their peers. We are looking for a transformation from unintentional practices that yield unintended results, to intentional, strategic practices that are effective in our efforts to make strides in removing implicit biases, creating awareness of those biases and developing conscious overrides to remove barriers for students,” Galido said in an email.
She added it is all 9-R administrators’, teachers’ and staff members’ responsibility to work together to ensure its practices are not unintentionally closing doors because of a lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding.
President of the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education Kristin Smith said, “I’m super excited we found a resource to serve as a good guide to solve what we are calling opportunity gaps.”
Galido said examining procedures and policies critically to see if they lack cultural proficiency requires a safe and supportive environment and developing a common language to begin the work, and the work “won’t be completed overnight.”
“This is the exact work of another school district highlighted in the book ‘Opening Doors,’ and the story on how they did this work successfully,” she said.
She said enhancing cultural proficiency will require many steps, and selection of “Opening Doors” as a guide” is but one of the early steps.