Explaining concerns about the Osseo Area Schools’ integration and achievement plan

BY Teresa Lunt

Guest Columnist

 

I am writing to follow-up on the May 1, 2014, article “Osseo Area Schools approves Achievement and Integration plan.” The article states the school board approved the plan on a 5-1 vote, and I was the dissenting vote. The article also accurately reports I agreed with 93 percent of the plan ($3.9 million of the $4.2 million budget), and I asked administration and my fellow board members to reconsider expanding a consulting relationship with Pacific Educational Group (PEG). The article did not include my rationale, and I’d like to elaborate on why I do not support this aspect of our racial equity work.

I am an ardent supporter of our district’s mission for all children. Our racial achievement gap is unacceptable, and, as a board member, I understand it is my responsibility to see that we continue our work to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed. We have our share of success stories. For example, graduation rates among our black students are improving. However, we have a lot of work to do.

I have substantial concerns relating to $300,000 of consulting services. The plan will implement the beliefs and protocols of PEG, a vendor selected by our administration. PEG is one of several vendors that provide consulting services to school districts for culturally relevant, responsive pedagogy and interracial dialogue.

PEG’s work is based on Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT states racism is systemic and pervasive in the dominant white culture of American society and that whiteness and white privilege continue to marginalize people of color. These beliefs are the foundation of their work and will be promoted throughout our district. In addition, although PEG’s role has been relatively limited until now and is intended to be professional development for staff, this approach has already been weaved into classroom instruction by some in our district, consistent with the experience I am aware of elsewhere.

By definition, a theory is a proposed explanation, framework of thought, or a principally held belief. Like many theories, CRT is open to debate, with both supporters and detractors. Both CRT and PEG have sparked their share of controversy. I encourage you to Google both and read for yourself. Empirical support for PEG’s work is limited, especially when compared to other strategies to reduce the achievement gap (such as longer school days, longer school years and parental involvement). While some districts have seen positive results with this approach, others have chosen to continue their work using other approaches and vendors.

At the end of this budget period, our district will have spent nearly $400,000 on PEG’s services. This is a significant, discretionary, financial investment. I am convinced spending these dollars in another way would yield greater benefit. I clearly expressed my concerns to administration and my board colleagues for over a year.

I want to reiterate I am supportive of the work that needs to be done to close the racial achievement gap, and there are many important strategies outlined in the Achievement and Integration plan. Unfortunately, procedure does not allow the board to vote on specific line items. In light of my substantial concerns relating to PEG, my only option was to vote against the entire plan and budget. Contrary to what I understand some to believe, this was never a question of whether we would spend the budgeted dollars. It was a question of how, and, from my perspective, only how we spend $300,000 of the total. I prefer an approach to our racial equity work supported by empirical data and that unites our community rather than risks dividing us.

 

Teresa Lunt is the School Board Chair for Independent School District 279.

 
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