In 2018, the New Jersey School Boards Association created the Equity Council to examine the issue of educational equity and share research and best practices with the NJSBA membership.

The council is chaired by Dr. Penelope Lattimer, former assistant commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Education, and executive director of the Rutgers Institute for Improving Student Achievement. The council includes board members and educators from school districts throughout the state, as well as NJSBA President Dan Sinclair and Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod.

As part of the committee’s charge, School Board Notes plans to periodically update members on the committee’s work and findings.  The group meets four times a year.

At its meeting in the fall, the group heard presentations from two district superintendents, Dr. Brian Zychowski, superintendent for North Brunswick school district, and Teresa Rafferty, superintendent of the Piscataway school district. Jason Lester, principal of Piscataway high school, who is a member of the council, joined Rafferty in her presentation. All three presenters provided examples of how their districts are addressing issues of equity, diversity and inclusion at all instructional levels.

Zychowski described how he holds district personnel accountable for equity goals and assessments in North Brunswick, and the methods he uses to engage faculty and administration in important work addressing prior habits, uncovering biases, and engaging in uncomfortable conversations. The work has yielded improved achievement levels for students who were previously under-represented in Advanced Placement (AP) and other higher-level courses, but who are now in those classes and are successfully meeting course performance standards.

Rafferty spoke about her district’s emphasis on early childhood interventions for students in the district. Piscataway has a large and diverse population.  She described lessons in professional development for English language learner (ELL) teachers and the growing number of services that the district is providing.

Piscataway’s Jason Lester spoke about his work with the faculty, staff, administrative team, students and families at Piscataway High School. He discussed the changing dynamics of AP classes, and the ongoing developmental work to help students of color develop the confidence to take certain classes, as well as the work that school counselors are doing to help guide students in college admissions and financial aid applications.

As a result of the Equity Council’s work, discussion and materials about equity issues in education are now being included in the New Board Member Orientation that all new board of education members in the state must take.

Each month School Board Notes will include information and resources on promoting equity in school districts.