On behalf of the Shoreline Unified School District and Tomales High School, we would like to address the important issues raised both at recent board meetings and in the open letter in the Light, “A history of racism at Tomales,” by Adrian Vega. We thank Mr. Vega for entering the discourse on equity at Shoreline and appreciate the opportunity for constructive engagement on this critical issue. The purpose of this letter is to acknowledge that equity challenges exist in our district, and to reaffirm that our equity work, so critical to student well-being and success, is ongoing.
Mr. Vega’s letter demonstrates why we like to “brag” about him. We are extraordinarily proud of the education offered at Tomales High that prepares graduates like Mr. Vega both for postsecondary education at prominent colleges and universities throughout the country, and for becoming lifelong learners prepared to reach their full potential as responsible, productive and contributing members of society. Last year, our graduating class had a 100 percent graduation rate and earned $410,000 in scholarships. Please join us in celebrating these successes.
Now to the more difficult issue of racism. Let us be clear: Shoreline does not condone any form or act of racism, overt or covert, by its students, teachers or staff. Any person—student, parent, teacher, staff or community member—who believes he or she has experienced an incident of racism, sexism or bullying, should report it immediately through the complaint procedures in place in our district. A copy of the procedure can be accessed at shorelineunified.org, or by calling the district office at (707) 878.2225. The board also has policies addressing bullying and racism that are available on our website or by calling our office. Any complaint regarding racism, sexism or bullying will be taken seriously and investigated promptly through the procedures in place. We believe that many instances of racism, sexism and bullying go unreported. Please work with us to eradicate this behavior and make Shoreline a place where all students and families feel safe and welcome.
This all begs the question set forth in Mr. Vega’s letter: what more can we do to be better? First, our district has long recognized the importance of addressing equity, beginning as early as 2011, when we began our collaboration with the Marin Community Foundation to work to close the achievement gap. In 2012, the district convened a listening campaign facilitated by the National Equity Project, and we continue to provide professional development on equity. Most recently, on Oct. 5, we held a district-wide professional development day featuring Dr. Nancy Dome, from Epoch Education. Dr. Dome has worked throughout California to assist school districts and organizations address equity issues. We will keep doing this important work.
The example Mr. Vega and others point to as disparate disciplinary treatment of brown and white students in fact reflects a conscious recognition at Shoreline that discipline should be meted out in in a way that is restorative and educational, not solely punitive. History shows that suspension and expulsion of students does more harm than good, pushing students out of the school system and leading to a greater level of dropout and harmful learning environments.
For the past two years, our administration has been investigating and implementing restorative practices at all school sites. The restorative approach uses communicative techniques focused on affective statements and proactive community building activities. Accordingly, past conduct that resulted in an automatic “at home” suspension will now be an “in-school” suspension to ensure that students who do not pose a safety risk will not fall behind in their coursework. Similarly, past conduct that resulted in a mandatory expulsion may now result in a suspended expulsion if the student does not pose a safety risk. Through the implementation of these restorative practices, we expect that the deeper impact of a behavior will be understood, thus decreasing that behavior in the future, all the while ensuring that our students stay in school.
The district continues to work to recruit administrators, teachers and staff who reflect the diversity of our student population. Help us with this process. If you are aware of bicultural and/or bilingual individuals who may be interested in working in the district or serving on the board of trustees, please encourage them to apply. We agree that diversity matters in student learning, and that students benefit from teachers who share their gender or race.
Finally, to keep the conversation going and to gather input and fresh ideas, we are planning a facilitated community forum on equity. Stay tuned for more details on the date, location and structure of the forum. We hope to see you there to continue this important conversation. We look forward to working together in a positive and productive manner that reflects the values of our district. Although we come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences, we all have one thing in common: we are here for the kids.
Bob Raines is the superintendent of Shoreline Unified School District. Adam Jennings is the principal of Tomales High School and Jill Manning-Sartori is the president of the Board of Trustees.