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Good for Santa Barbara 2017: Noozhawk's 2nd Annual report on Nonprofits and Philanthropy

Just Communities Central Coast Provides Building Blocks for Diversity, Inclusion

Its partnership with Santa Barbara Unified School District makes the grade in closing achievement gaps and improving overall student success

Jarrod Schwartz, founding executive director of Just Communities Central Coast, leads a meeting as part of the nonprofit organization’s efforts to promote equity and diversity. Click to view larger
Jarrod Schwartz, founding executive director of Just Communities Central Coast, leads a meeting as part of the nonprofit organization’s efforts to promote equity and diversity. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

Imagine a world in which every baby begins on a level playing field, every child has the same educational opportunities and every adult is given the same access to careers in diverse, inclusive communities. For Just Communities Central Coast, it’s not an imaginary world, but one the nonprofit organization strives to achieve by providing cultural competency training to erase bigotry, bias and racism in all of its forms.

“Our vision is to inspire a Central Coast in which all people are connected, respected and valued, and all people have a voice so that every school, every community, is a place of opportunity,” said Jarrod Schwartz, founding executive director of Just Communities Central Coast.

Programs introduced and implemented by the nonprofit organization since 2001 have helped the Santa Barbara Unified School District narrow the achievement gap between its Latino and white students, assisted in the development of more diverse boards among other local nonprofit organizations, and have provided customized consulting and coaching to other organizations and businesses on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural relevance. Just Communities Central Coast also has provided training for law enforcement agencies to address issues with implicit bias, and governing agencies to address racial equity in their work.

In 2003, Just Communities Central Coast established its Youth CommUnity Leadership Institute. The summer residential program works to develop young leaders who are engaging in activities to create change.

“The bulk of our work is with schools and school districts to look at educational opportunities and improve outcomes for all students,” Schwartz said. “We’re looking at racial and ethnic opportunities and achievement gaps, how to make schools safe for the LGBTQ students, how to overcome language barriers and other obstacles to success in our schools.”

In 2005, Just Communities Central Coast and the Santa Barbara Unified School District developed a unique partnership in implementing the Institute for Equity in Education. The goal is to address institutional racism and gaps in educational opportunities and outcomes, and to lead change at the individual, school and district levels.

“Equity issues are the most important thing that public education is facing these days,” retired SBUSD Superintendent Dave Cash said. “There continues to be significant opposition to making sure every kid gets what they need to be successful. Dealing with white privilege in a community like Santa Barbara is hard to do, but absolutely necessary to meet the needs of the kids.”

Before Cash partnered with Just Communities Central Coast in 2005, racial and ethnic disparities in Santa Barbara’s public schools existed along every measure of academic performance: standardized test scores in math and English language arts, grade point averages, discipline, attendance, special education enrollment rates, enrollment in high-rigor courses and graduation rates.

The district, administration, staff, teachers, students and parents participated in a variety of programs designed to increase understanding, meet students needs, address cultural differences and close the Latino-white achievement gap.

By 2013, the Latino students in the district saw significant increases in English and math proficiency as well as a 101 percent increase in participation in the district’s high-rigor academy programs, a 200 percent increase in college-preparatory course completion, a 56 percent decrease in discipline referrals and a 35 percent decrease in suspensions.

“You have to really have a different view, a different set of eyes to look at a problem and see where we’re missing the mark, what we can do instead that would honor everyone’s knowledge and capitalize on what students bring rather than being so quick to jump to the deficit model of what they’re missing,” said Annette Cordero, a former school board member. “In order to do that effectively, you have to shift the paradigm. That’s what Just Communities really helps people do.”

She said she jumped at the opportunity to attend the first institute as a board member.

“Once I did that, it really encouraged me and empowered me to be an advocate for bringing more of their work into the district,” Cordero said.

During Shawn Carey’s tenure as vice principal and then principal, Dos Pueblos High School became, in many ways, a model for equity and inclusion work, Schwartz said.

“They were the first school to truly take a comprehensive approach where we were able to work with educators, students and parents and bring the three groups together to work jointly to improve their school,” he said. “As a result, DPHS saw some of the most impressive achievement gains of any school in the district, and their success was partly responsible for providing the evidence to go districtwide.”

Carey, now assistant superintendent for secondary education, remains active with Just Communities Central Coast.

“I have gone above and beyond to be deeply engaged with their programming because I recognize that I’m a flawed individual,” Carey said. “We all have bias. I bear responsibility since I am a person who exerts some influence in a sensitive and vital part of our community, which is public education. It’s incumbent upon me to be aware and awakened to bias and prejudice in any way I can. If I can do that, then when it comes to decision-making or allocating resources or inspiring practitioners, I’m much more effective if I’m kept current, stay engaged with the work of cultural proficiency.”

Other Just Communities programs include Parents for Inclusion, Diversity and Access (PIDA), which provides a voice for parents; Talking in Class, peer-to-peer trainings to address stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination before they lead to hate and violence; the Language Justice Initiative; the and Safe Schools programs.

“The programs they offer address the scary ‘why’ question. People don’t want to look at why. That’s what appealed to me so much, like racial inequalities that are really based on unchallenged attitudes, racism without racists,” Cordero said. “JC really helps people dig under the surface to see what the structural problems are that we need to figure out and eliminate before we can move ahead. If you don’t eliminate the underlying barrier, then teaching a new approach isn’t going to make a difference. Just because we change the curriculum doesn’t mean we’ve addressed the underlying issue.”

Click here for more information about Just Communities Central Coast. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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