HUSD Meeting recap

The Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) is pursuing the implementation of a district-wide ethnic studies program as well as a required one-semester ethnic studies course for all freshman students starting as soon as next year.

The program and course proposal comes after several years of working to address inequality in the school district.

HUSD staff and teachers provided an overview of the exploration of a district-wide program and introduced, for first reading only, the proposed high school ethnic studies course to the school board on Nov. 17.

“An important part of this is understanding both our past and our present,” said Erin Fender, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

With that said, before the presentation kicked off, seventh grade science teacher Joanna Poliseri read an Inidgenous land acknowledgement from the County of Sonoma for the Miwok, Wappo and Pomo peoples.


Exploring the what and why behind ethnic studies

According to Fender’s presentation, ethnic studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on theoretical and political questions regarding the social construction of categories of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, class and nation.

Ethnic studies pedagogy embraces humanizing all people by honoring the cultural wealth of historically underserved groups by analyzing systems of oppression, and by promoting action in solidarity with others to transform communities and student’s lives.

So why implement ethnic studies in Healdsburg?

According to district demographic data, the HUSD serves a majority — over 60% — of “minority” Latinx students and while 65% of Healdsburg High School Latinx students from the class of 2021 met their A-G requirements, opportunity gaps still remain for students.

“In an effort to continue the journey to create a more equitable and socially just school system in Healdsburg we are continuing efforts to include more inclusive curricula and practices in our schools,” reads the agenda item report. “Historically, K-12 curriculum has remained largely Eurocentric, outdated and disconnected from the growing population of students of color in the United States and the need to create more understanding, awareness and collaborative space in our schools and wider community.”

Additionally, too often when students of color see their stories in the standard curriculum they see stories of oppression rather than stories that celebrate joy and cultural wealth.

According to Fender’s presentation, the district wants to eradicate systemic institutionalized racism by implementing ethnic studies tenants across the TK-12 curriculum.

The district’s deep dive into equity concerns started in response to community concerns about equity within the school district and worries around achievement gaps and racial divide.

The district first launched into the work of addressing racism and inequality in 2018 when they formed an equity task force and partnered with the National Equity Project to hold a series of town hall meetings and listening sessions with families and students.

In early 2020, the school board gave the green light to merge the Healdsburg Charter School and the Healdsburg Elementary School — both of which were a source of concern regarding racial divide between Latinx students and white students — into one elementary program. The charter school and Healdsburg Elementary School both had a history of concerns with school configuration with a sort of de facto segregation with Healdsburg Elementary School and the charter school.

Later in 2020, the district partnered with the Acosta Education Partnership, an organization that provides guidance on implementing ethnic studies programs for K-12 and provides staff professional development on unconscious bias and equity.

Twenty-two HUSD teachers and administrators have volunteered after school from January to June to participate in a series of Zoom ethnic studies pedagogy, equity and unconscious bias training called the ethnic studies institute. Fender herself said she participated in some of the training.

“I learned a lot about myself,” she said. She noted that she believes everyone should do some critical self reflection regarding equity and how we interact with others.


Vision for a TK-12 ethnic studies program

Maggie Alcala, a second-grade teacher at Healdsburg Elementary, said she’s been a part of the ethnic studies institute for a year and is thrilled to be part of the community cultural wealth conversation.

Alcala shared what she envisions for an all grades ethnic studies program, “I’m envisioning classrooms at all grade levels that will embrace our community’s differences by investing time to learn about each other's aspirational, linguistic, familial, ancestral and ecological wealths.”

She continued, “Sharing our stories will hopefully break down barriers, stereotypes and build more empathy among our students and staff. In second grade we’re completing a community project based learning social studies unit and we’re learning about Healdsburg history, family, culture, ancestors and immigration, but I’m excited to dig deeper.”      


High school course proposal

The district’s three-year plan for 2022, 2023 and beyond includes the goal of beginning to require ethnic studies for all ninth graders starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The goal also in part follows AB 101, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October and stipulates that all California students will be required to complete a semester-long ethnic studies course in order to earn their diploma.

The new mandate will take effect with the graduating class of 2029-30, although high schools will have to start offering ethnic studies courses by the 2025-26 school year.

The course will be offered in what is called “freshman compass,” the new freshman seminar course. For one semester students will complete the freshman compass and in the second semester students will complete the ethnic studies class.

 “The ethnic studies course is meant to be engaging. We wrote the course to be a survey of different marginalized groups in the United States and to give the students an opportunity to explore their own identity and do projects to both further explore their identity and get involved in the community,” said Thomas Wharf, a U.S. History and AP human geography teacher at Healdsburg High School. Wharf is also the advisor for the school’s ethnic studies club.

The freshman compass segment will let students build their community and get to know the school and its teachers, counselors and support staff. In the course, students will also learn about goal setting in order to think about what they want to do in their high school career.  

In looking at the course outline, school board trustee Cristal Lopez suggested talking about identity and the importance of identity when getting to the Latina/Latino/Latinx unit because while people may use Latinx as an identifier for a person from — or whose ancestors were from — a Spanish-speaking land, culture or from Latin American, in reality the “X” stems from English.

School board president Aarcely Romo-Flores thanked the district for their work in establishing the course and the program.

“Kudos to you Erin and to the district in general, and also Corazon Healdsburg, for being so proactive with this, we’re seven years ahead of the game. Because of your efforts and your work we’re going to be rolling this out next year which is super exciting,” Romo-Flores said.

The freshman course proposal will return to a future school board meeting for final approval by a school board vote.

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