Cover image taken by Arden Margulis shows community members raising their hands to speak at the 9-20 “study session.”
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On Wednesday, September 20th, members of the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) community packed into the Board’s “study session” to voice concerns regarding the detracking of honors and AP courses. The meeting was called to order at around 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, and extended past 1 a.m. on Thursday morning. In preparation for the meeting, the district released a report outlining and analyzing data collected over the last eight years.
The Board opted to hear public comment from students first, during which all thirteen students spoke in favor of tracking. Carlmont student Kiana Hinkson said, “My sister experienced instability in our home life, and choosing the AS English option made her excited to go to school and push herself in her classes.” The students who spoke argued that honors options are necessary to advance critical thinking and ensure a rigorous education preparing them for both college and their future careers.
Next, the Board heard public comment, during which numerous SUHSD teachers and faculty voiced their opinions. Many district staff members claimed that even though all student comments were against detracking, the comments may not be representative of all students, as lower income students could have family or work obligations preventing them from attending.
Almost every comment in favor of detracking was made by teachers and school administrators. M-A English and Psychology teacher Rachael Wan brought up the relevance of an English class in a world of artificial intelligence and search engines. She said, “Skills like collaboration, communication, critical thinking, understanding and empathy are not taught through more reading homework or harder tests. They are developed in class through rigorous engagement with ideas that are different from our own and people whose backgrounds are different.”
Ravenswood City School District Trustee Jenny Bloom was one of many speakers brought to tears, saying, “I am one person standing here, speaking for thousands. Back in March and again in August, we heard Ravenswood data used without humanity, without context, without any sort of understanding of what it’s like to be in our community.”
Many speakers were not currently within the school district, including a middle-schooler and parents of future SUHSD students. One parent said, “I actually don’t know which side I fall on. I always look to the professionals who are closest to the issues.”
Most of those who spoke against detracking were parents. Some described their experiences immigrating to the United States, and said that advanced classes were responsible for their success in a new country. One parent asked, “Why do you remove opportunities from children in the country that was supposed to be the land of opportunity?”
Although the Board meeting started in a packed room, by the time Dr. Diana Wilmot presented her findings, the room had emptied. The presentation was almost exclusively heard by District employees. The Board of Trustees only began discussing the study and presentation at 11:30 p.m. and continued until 1 a.m.
Trustee Shawneece Stevenson said, “Some families are taking the opportunity to go to private schools and others can’t afford it while we are just fighting over the classes. We are going to lose a lot of students, not just the wealthy. I pray we find a solution.”
Trustee Sathvik Nori continued to disagree with detracking. He mentioned the opinion article about detracking he wrote for the M-A Chronicle in 2021. Nori said the reason underrepresented groups’ enrollment in AP classes did not increase is because of implicit biases that have yet to be addressed. He said, “What we haven’t addressed with detracking is the culture discouraging underrepresented groups from being in AP and honors classes. I remember from my time at M-A that my friends who were underrepresented would get asked ‘are you in the right class?’ when they walked into an AP class.”
Trustee Amy Koo said, “As adults we need to have high expectations of our students because all students want to learn and we need to support them. I am still very concerned about the amount of students who are failing Algebra 1.”
Trustee Carrie Du Bois said, “Parents are coming to us concerned. I want to trust our educators and I want to trust our community. We need to do a better job at building a community. We need to care about other people’s kids in a powerful way.”
Student Trustee Jacob Yuryev said, “I tried to talk with every single student I could about detracking and their almost unanimous response was a resounding yes. They explicitly stated their desire for honors and AS classes to return. There was a dangerous assumption that every student who spoke in favor of tracking is privileged. I explicitly talked with students from all communities and they all wanted as many honors classes as possible. By taking away honors and advanced classes, you aren’t solving the problem, you’re putting a band-aid on it.”
M-A Student Trustee Zahara Agarwal initially disagreed with M-A’s decision to detrack freshman English classes, but, by the end of the meeting, said, “Detracking is not solving every equity issue. The integrated classes are for the students whose parents don’t have time to sit down and help their kids or hire tutors and I now agree with the direction the District has gone with detracking.”