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Inside the Classroom

Woodland Hills commission makes recommendations for avoiding future clashes through 'equity'

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 2:30 p.m.
The Woodland Hills School District administrative building.
The Woodland Hills School District administrative building.

A group formed in response to violence between students and staff in the Woodland Hills School District has offered a broad outline for avoiding future clashes.

The Woodland Hills Commission on Youth Development and Learning was formed in June 2017 to review the district's disciplinary policies and to evaluate whether the district was serving students and families.

Nearly a year later, the commission delivered its recommendations to the Woodland Hills School Board.

Major goals included improving staff development, community partnerships, academic achievement and transparency.

While many of the proposed solutions focused on improving the school district overall, the commission identified a need to make it clear that the district was committed to becoming more representative of the population it serves and making sure it serves all its students.

"A root cause of the issues that have brought the Woodland Hills School District to its present state is the lack of formal commitment to the ideas of equity and equitable outcomes for all students," the report said. "Whether this lack of commitment is real or perceived it is, nonetheless, operative in the minds of many of its residents both African-American and Caucasian."

To that end, the commission recommended the board hire an administrator to review major decisions and hiring with the goal of increasing staff diversity and following an "equity strategy."

Other recommendations included:

• Examining the feasibility of providing pre-school to all students in the district;

• increasing the number of students who achieve proficiency on state exams;

• creating more tangible career pathways at the high school level;

• evaluating policies around school resource officers;

• and training staff and students to participate in restorative justice discipline models.

Though the group was formed in the wake of incidents of violence between students and adults working within the district during the 2016-17 school year, Superintendent Alan Johnson stressed that the group is not an investigative body.

"Its role was to simply find what kind of changes needed to be made," Johnson said.

Many of the recommendations focused on improving school climate.

"This sense of belonging is really important in the social-emotional development of a child," said Jerry Zahorchak, former Pennsylvania Education Secretary and co-chair of the commission.

Karen Farmer-White, community activist and member of the State Board of Education, is also a co-chair of the commission.

The meeting Tuesday was open to the public but did not include discussion or comment. A copy of the report will be available on the district website Wednesday, Johnson said.

School Board President Jamie Glasser said that the report will likely be discussed at the board legislative meeting on May 16.

Both Glasser and Board Vice President Mike Belmonte expressed their appreciation for the commission's work and said they looked forward to reviewing the recommendations further.

The commission is an independent body and is comprised of parents, teachers, clergy, business professionals, law enforcement and leaders from the Woodland Hills school community.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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