John Adams Middle School’s (JAMS) staff members appeared before the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education last Thursday to outline their plans for comprehensive improvements that will assist All JAMS students, “regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, learning disabilities, language barriers, [to] achieve grade level standards.”
Of JAMS’ 1,150 students, 60 percent are students of color and 40 percent receive lunches free or at reduced costs. JAMS’ Latino population is growing and its Anglo population is shrinking. Latino and Afro-American students have scored significantly lower than Anglo and Asian students on standardized tests in English Language Arts and Math.
The JAMS staff identified “elements that are critical for improved, sustained academic achievement for all students.” The first, according to the staff documents, is “academic excellence: creating a professional learning community focused on instruction and student learning.” Other elements are: ensuring success for all students by creating supports for all students via smaller, personal learning environments with dedicated teacher teams that share responsibility for student learning, know their students well and serve as adult advocates.
Also cited was the necessity for a “safe and healthy environment” and “social equity…all students have the right to learn and reach grade level standards.”
Means of supporting student achievement were also suggested. The staff recommended that interdisciplinary teacher teams be formed and assigned “to a core group of approximately 120 students. These teacher teams will have common planning time to review student work, form professional relationships that focus on teaching and learning, coordinate student learning to maximize learning experiences, and monitor student achievement. Time will be provided for teams to meet during the school day. Time will also be provided for interventions and support within the school day such as tutoring, advisory, counseling, mentoring, and advocacy.”
It was also suggested that the school staff “reflect the demographics of the student body and community. In addition, a professional development series should focus on teaching sensitivity to the needs of the school’s diverse community. Also, it is imperative the school and district work in concert to recruit and retain a diverse staff.”
“Implementation of an advisory program to support the personalization of the school community” was also proposed, as was “ a dense network of support” that would encourage families “to support the social, emotional, academic, and physical development of our children” and a partnership of community, parents, and school work “to provide enriched educational experiences for all students.”
JAMS parents who spoke to the Board were unanimously enthusiastic about the plan. Rita Areair stated, “This is exactly what the students need, especially students of color.”
Irma Caranza, a member of the Board of the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), said that her board supported the “goals and objectives that are proposed. We are confident that the plan will make JAMS a model learning community… and help close the achievement gap.”
Members of the Board were equally enthusiastic. School Board member Julia Brownley told her colleagues “I feel quite inspired. After being on the School Board for 10 years, this is an historic moment for JAMS. It will be a model for the District.”
Board member Oscar De La Torre advised his colleagues to pay particular attention to the closing statement made by the PNA Board in written recommendations that were presented to the Board: “Every effort in school reform will be meaningless if we do not counter that students of color are not as intellectually gifted as others.”
De La Torre added, “Once young people enter middle school they become very aware and conscious of race and class…[so middle schools] must confront negative stereotypes.”
Board President Emily Bloomfield told Superintendent John Deasy that the Board’s direction “to the administration was to find the money” to implement the plan.Deasy replied that the administration’s “main issue” with the plan was budgetary. One of Deasy’s three performance targets for this academic year, as ordered by the board, was “guiding an intensive effort to bring focus, support and improvement to the teaching and learning work at JAMS.”