District hopes for open talks, active steps in closing achievement gaps

She is about to graduate from Centennial High School, but Hawwi Chako hopes the equity work she has participated in continues for years.

The Centennial School Board unanimously approved a new equity policy Wednesday, May 8 that aims to tackle disparities in achievement, graduation rates and participation in certain classes among students.

“I won’t be here to see it, but I hope future students see a change,” Chako said. “I think it’s awesome and I really hope that we not only raise awareness, but take the steps to improve things.”

As in many districts across East County and the country, Centennial is seeing an overrepresentation of students of color in special education classes and receiving disciplinary referrals, with an underrepresentation in Talented And Gifted programs and AP classes.

“Some people think it means lowering the standards for some kids, but it’s about continuing to improve the work of all kids and elevating the kids who are not performing at the same level,” Superintendent Sam Breyer said. “Parents want the same high expectations for their kids that middle to upper class kids of other races get.”

The policy states that the district believes “a culturally responsive staff and the effective use of research-based instructional strategies predict academic success” — that the responsibility for the disparities among students rests with the adults, not the children.

“We’re taking it step by step and feeling our way through it,” said Kristin Klotter, the teen parent program coordinator at Centennial and a leader of the equity team. “Our first goal is to create an awareness of the need to address this issue of racism, prejudice and lack of equity for all our different constituents.”

The equity team collected stories from 70 Centennial High students, asking how racism or discrimination has affected them and saw patterns, including jokes about racism.

Two Mexican students described feeling torn between their cultural identity and what they called the “white-washed” environment of advanced classes with predominantly white, upperclass students.

“This an opportunity to serve students who have not been served well by our system in the past,” Wendy Reif, district spokeswoman, said. “...It’s about strategically putting our actions where are words are.

“These answers are not simple. It’s like starting without a manual. It’s for the long haul and not something that will be fixed in the short-term.”

District officials say that the policy is the beginning. The district plans to have ongoing conversations to raise awareness and initiate changes.

Thus far, Breyer has held two listening sessions with African American and Hispanic families in the district to hear about challenges and barriers specific to their students.

“A lot of these parents haven’t felt comfortable coming in to our schools and talking to the principal or teachers about issues bothering them,” Reif said. “Particularly for parents who don’t speak English as their native language, there needs to be a comfortable environment.”

The goal of the policy is to develop procedures to implement an action plan. One other facet of the policy’s action plan is to expand the pool of hiring candidates to include more people of color.

Breyer will report to the board the progress of the action plan at least annually in conjunction with the annual goals of the equity team that are reviewed by the school board.

“It’s the work we need to be doing in our district for our students,” said Lori Silverman, director of student services for Centennial. “We’re learning every step of the way.”

For more information about the equity policy, contact Lori Silverman, director of student services, at 503-760-7990 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. A copy of the policy is available on the district’s website at

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