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SOMA Schools, Community Leaders Say Inequity “Unacceptable” In Wake of Report

By TAPinto SOMA Staff,


MAPLEWOOD, NJ __ Community and school leaders are calling for the South Orange and Maplewood community to put more emphasis on equity after a report about the school district said more work was needed to close the achievement gap.

Dr. Edward Fergus, Rutgers Professor of Urban Education and Policy, concluded that much more needs to be done to accomplish the district’s goal of equity when he presented the district’s Equity Report at a South Orange-Maplewood School District Board of Education’s special meeting last month.

Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor said in a news release that: "We have a lot more work to do." Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis said the report "was sobering."

"The academic achievement gap is immoral. It's shameful," Dafis said at a town committee meeting, discussing inequities ranging to how students are learning to how they are punished.

Fergus was hired by the school district for monitoring that was part of the SOMSD and Black Parents Workshop settlements, signed in July 2020.

His report illustrated racial disparities and how race affects special needs students, Advanced Placement (AP) and honor classes and disciplinary actions.

Taylor said that the solutions presented by Fergus and his team show how the district can get this work done – based on their collection of data, conversations with students and staff and stakeholder surveys.

"That is why I am so grateful for their hard work. It’s one thing to say that we have a lot more work to do. It’s another thing to say how to do it," Taylor said.

Among the solutions presented: increasing parental involvement, hire more teachers of color, hold professional development to improve cross-cultural teaching, audit curriculum to determine if materials are inclusive, and more.

Taylor said the discussion following the presentation was wide-ranging, “but everyone agreed that any inequity in our District is unacceptable.

Dafis said everyone should be paying attention – they have a duty to participate in improving the situation.

"If you're one of those people who says that you moved here because of equity, if you use the word 'equity,' you gotta walk your talk," he said, saying people should come to meetings and engage.

"I hope that we can do better by our students and as municipal partners, when we think about eliminating segregation in our town and promoting greater inclusion intentionally," he said.

Dafis said that Maplewood intends to continue its actions in terms of housing, development and homeownership, continue working with the Community Coalition on Race.

The school board approved a resolution to extend the monitoring plan for another three years until August 2026.

Dafis pointed to the three-year extension for improvement saying more than student achievement is at stake: "We will have to pay. It will hurt our school district. It will affect our state aid."

Taylor said the district cannot do this work alone.

“Everyone – families, students, staff members, and stakeholders throughout the community – needs to commit and recommit to the goal of fully integrating our schools and classrooms, practically on a daily basis,” Taylor said. “It is how we will ensure that every child’s humanity is recognized, the content of their character continues to build, and their skills and knowledge continue to develop.”

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