Curriculum Forums – Questions and Answers (August 2021)

Q: How does the District include voices of historically marginalized populations and perspectives of those from different cultures in creating its local curriculum - knowing that the Pittsford staff does not yet fully represent diverse populations, or reflect the diversity in the student population?

A: In Pittsford, we value the expertise of our teachers as being content specialists with a deep understanding of their standards, knowledgeable about child and adolescent development, and experts at the craft of teaching. This is why we engage them in writing curriculum for all disciplines. We have, however, become increasingly attuned to the obligation we have to consider who is, and who is not, at the table when we engage in important work related to our curriculum. Recently we have begun to utilize tools and protocols, such as the Text Selection Tool, the Culturally Responsive Scorecard, and the Washington Model for Evaluating Bias in Instructional Mater to assist us in our processes. The use of these tools is not meant to take the place of inviting additional voices to the table, but it does require us to consider our work through additional, important, perspectives while building our capacity to be a more culturally responsive environment.

We are committed to developing partnerships with those who can assist us in broadening our perspectives and including the voices of historically marginalized populations in the process of curriculum review and resource selections. This is work that we look forward to engaging in with our soon-to-be hired Coordinator for Equity and Inclusivity. We want to be thoughtful about this work so as not to expect any individual to be responsible for speaking for an entire group of people.

Q: Can you explain the decision not to work with outside organizations, such as Pathstone, in developing or selecting curriculum?

A: With very few exceptions, Pittsford does not purchase or subscribe to curriculum or curriculum packages developed by outside organizations or third party vendors. We know from experience that engaging our staff in the development of curriculum that is aligned to New York State (NYS) standards and reflects the needs of our students not only produces high quality curriculum, but also builds the capacity and commitment of our teachers to use that curriculum. The process of writing curriculum is a significant and impactful form of professional learning for those involved. In the case of revisions designed to better align our curriculum with the NYS Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework (CR-SE), we are using the process to develop the capacity and mindset of our teachers to apply the CR-SE principles throughout all of their interactions with their students, and not just specifically to one aspect of their curriculum. This is part of our obligation to ensure that everyone feels safe, respected, and able to be their authentic selves within our school community.

Q: Will parents of elementary students know which teachers are piloting the K-5 Inquiries at each grade level? Will PCSD be eliciting feedback from parents about this?

A: The Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Building principals, the Elementary Social Studies Standards Leader will be developing the process to gather feedback, including feedback from parents, as appropriate, on each of the six inquiries as they are implemented in classrooms this year.

Q: How are you making sure parents and students of color feel safe and welcome sharing their experience and feedback related to existing, and newly revised, curriculum:

A: Building in feedback loops relative to the effectiveness and impact of our curriculum and has always been an important part of the curriculum design process. We look forward to opportunities to expand these feedback loops beyond teacher input to include student and parent feedback as appropriate. This is an area that we look forward to developing in the near future, using the skills and experience of our Coordinator for Equity and Inclusivity, among others.

Q: What is the long-term timeline for ensuring culturally responsive-sustaining education adjustments in other disciplines such as the sciences, art, music, etc.?

A: Curriculum development is an ever evolving, recursive process in our District so our work is never done. All disciplines will be expected to embrace and apply the NYS principles of the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework (CR-SE) to their curriculum and instructional practices. In some cases, the shifts may be more subtle as we work to embed more student choice into their learning, provide more relevant and authentic problems for students to work on, while in other cases – such as with English/Language Arts and Social Studies – some of the shifts are more explicitly at the level of curriculum.

Our art and music teachers have already embraced opportunities to diversify the experiences that students have in their classrooms, bringing in art and music that represent a broad range of cultures and diverse artists and perspectives. These subject areas naturally lend themselves to high levels of student voice and choice and we often find very high levels of student engagement in these disciplines.

Q: What are the checks and balances to ensuring you challenge your own (PCSD’s) unconscious bias?

A: Becoming aware of, and challenging our own unconscious biases, is ongoing, significant, and important work. A first step in this work has been to develop and understanding throughout the organization of the power of “hidden” or unconscious bias. To that end, we have provided professional learning to hundreds of our employees on this topic. In addition, the tools and protocols that we are currently incorporating into our curriculum writing and resource identification work helps us to surface biases that we may not have been aware of. Finding additional opportunities to have diverse voices engaged in our work will also be an important part of the checks and balances of our unconscious biases. This is part of our obligation to ensure that everyone feels safe, respected, and able to be their authentic selves within our school community.

Q: In developing critical thinking skills, how much consideration is given to the risk of pre-framing based on the selection of resources provided to the students?

A: It is our job to teach students how to think critically; not what to think. This is why it is some important that we carefully select multiple and varied resources to use with students; resources that truly reflect multiple perspectives. As facilitators of curriculum projects it is imperative that we keep this in mind and not find ourselves subconsciously directing student thinking by providing them with resources that support only one viewpoint. This, in fact, is the historical oversight that our current work is seeking to address.

Q: You mentioned not removing resources or texts that are “favorite” or “classics.” How often are those reviewed through the Diversity Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) lens to ensure they align with learning outcomes? How do we critically review that so they remain relevant to current needs?

A: Our middle school English teachers, working with their school librarians, are currently in the process of evaluating the books they use in their classrooms - books that are required reading as well as books students select to read for class - through the Diversity Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) lens using some of the tools mentioned, above. Gaps are being identified and recommendations for new texts, as well as the potential substitution of some texts, are expected to be forthcoming. Similar work will be ongoing at the elementary and high school levels as well.

Q: Do you acknowledge systemic racism as a District and that it may impact education today?

A: Racism has no place in any school building in our community. PCSD seeks to create an environment that supports every single student, and yes, challenges racism wherever it exists in our system. This is one way we will teach our children – the future leaders of our communities – that until something is faced, it cannot be overcome.

Q: What can you share with parents regarding The Savvy Ally book club with Jeannie Gainsburg? Who is involved, is this K-12 teachers, or just secondary? Are parts of The Savvy Ally delivered to students?

A: Pittsford has had a long standing relationship with Jeannie Gainsburg starting years ago when we began offering professional learning to our staff on creating safe spaces for members of our LGBTQ+ community. The author has recently visited the District several times offering professional learning experiences anchored around her book, The Savvy Ally. We have had approximately 125 staff members, K-12, participate in this learning opportunity, at which they all receive a copy of the book. In addition, the members of the Gender Equity Policy development committee all read The Savvy Ally together this summer as part of their work. Portions of The Savvy Ally are also incorporated into the curriculum of our English 12:Visibility course.

Q: Are students going to be encouraged to use multiple pronouns?

A: All members of the PCSD community, including students, have the right to determine and state the pronouns by which they want to be referred with no judgments attached. Likewise, all members of the PCSD community are expected to honor each individual’s identified pronouns. This is part of our obligation to ensure that everyone feels safe, respected, and able to be their authentic selves within our school community.

Q: How will you support K-12 students who report they are invalidated every day?

A: A significant part of creating safe, inclusive, culturally responsive school environments is making sure that all students not only feel respected and validated, but that they all have at least one trusted adult in the building that they can turn to. All of our buildings have worked, over the past few years, to put in place processes to identify and reach out to students who may appear to be disconnected and in need of a trusted adult. We continue to develop our capacity and practices relative to community and restorative circles and have set explicit goals for this coming year about the use of such circles on a routine and ongoing basis. We know that this work is essential to helping students feel connected with one another and to developing empathy and the ability to take others’ perspectives. We have also increased our mental health staffing, K-12, considerably over the past few years in an effort to provide better, more consistent supports to all students. The District has also established a goal, as part of our Equity Plan, to increase student voice at both the building and district level. Hearing from our students about their experiences, giving them a voice as decisions are made is part of our obligation to ensure that everyone feels safe, respected, and able to be their authentic selves within our school community.

Q: Building trust was mentioned often, but I’m wondering how you will go about doing this and who you feel trust needs to be built with?

A: Trust comes through opportunities for open, honest, and respectful dialogue. It is fostered when there is an acknowledgement that reasonable people can disagree respectfully on some things, as long as we are all committed to doing what is in the best interest of our students and the members of our PCSD community. Trust is fostered when our behaviors align with our core values and when we take the time to get to know one another and not allow our biases to get in the way of transparent, collaborative work. It is important as an organization that PCSD fosters trust with our students, our employees, our parents, and our community members.

 Q: Is the Coordinator for Equity and Inclusivity position temporary due to limited funding?

A: The District is using some of the allocated federal COVID-relief monies to fund this position initially.