MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Tuesday night, Manchester School District Chief Equity Officer Tina Philibotte provided a positive update on the Manchester School District’s compliance with providing equal access to “higher-level learning opportunities” (HLLOs) to students of color.
The compliance stemmed from a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) compliance review of the Manchester School District under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. In particular, the review looked at HLLOs such as programs preparing students for college or vocational training as well as honors and advanced placement courses.
In 2014, the Manchester School District entered into a voluntary resolution agreement to address disproportionally low enrollment in HLLO courses, leading to the eventual creation of Philibotte’s position and a move toward removing remedial classes through a process called “de-leveling” after it was found that minority students were often indirectly pressured into taking lower-level courses due to low expectations from some teachers and administrators.
Philibotte told the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) Teaching and Learning Committee that she has received feedback from students through high school-specific forums and the big focus now is getting feedback from faculty through surveys and other initiatives. Getting feedback from bi-lingual families is also important.
“They have a wealth of knowledge I believe is being underutilized,” Philibotte said regarding the city’s bi-lingual families.
Feedback surveys from middle schools and elementary schools are expected in the future, but Philibotte says those will have different questions from surveys given to faculty at high schools.
Another key goal is helping educators obtain supplemental skills to more effectively work with historically under-represented communities. Work has also been needed to develop liaisons to build trust during the process.
Manchester School District Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Amy Allen said she has faith that Philibotte is moving the district in the right direction.
“Tina’s got the right people at the table identifying those barriers, (figuring out) what’s going to prevent a kid from signing up for (that class),” said Allen.
There was an update from Philibotte on how the district is managing deficits identified by the Office of Civil Rights around equal access to higher-level learning opportunities among students of color. Philibotte told board vice chair Jim O’Connell that progress is being made toward addressing those deficits.
Philibotte also responded to a question from O’Connell regarding the future of Advanced Placement African studies and ethnic studies classes. Philibotte said that work is being made toward developing those classes as well as comparable classes, such as an indigenous studies class. However, she added that a timeline is uncertain given the need to develop educators that are culturally mindful, and community partners that can help develop curricula as well as buy-in from students.
“The pace of trust is the pace of trust,” she said.
Members of the committee understood Philibotte’s concerns, but also urged that initial framework be placed to help community members know that efforts are being made to create these classes.