Superintendent Carvalho, Listen to My Students
By Meghann Seril
For Black History Month, my third graders and I explored different facets of social justice by learning about upstanders for different issues. We learned about Rep. John Lewis and his fight for racial justice, and Marley Dias and her work around educational justice. My students were inspired to see people of all different ages using their skills to work toward a more just and equitable society. To develop their agency and extend our learning beyond the classroom, students then chose an issue they cared about and wrote to a changemaker with their concerns and suggestions. Letters will soon be arriving at the White House, McDonald’s Corporation, and a few will land on the desk of Superintendent Carvalho at LAUSD Headquarters.
My students indicated they want teachers to whom they can relate. For our Spanish-immersion and Mandarin-immersion programs, that means teachers who can speak multiple languages. They want to be provided with adequate supplies, sports equipment, and healthy food options. Students want to feel safe and be secure on our campus. I am hopeful that Superintendent Carvalho can address my students’ concerns through the points outlined in his 100-Day Plan.
This starts with making culturally affirming schools a priority. One of the prompts we recently discussed in our sharing circle was “How do you know that people love you and care about you?” Persia shared, “I know that someone loves me when they spend time with me and we do things that make us happy.” Orion added, “I know that someone cares about me when they see I need help and they help me.” The superintendent must create structures that support school administrators to lead their campuses in anti-racism and equity efforts that will foster affirming school environments. To improve the recruitment and retention of teachers of color, we must value and elevate their work and contributions through feedback, compensation, and opportunities for leadership at both the school site and district level. When we support our teachers, they can in turn support our students in feeling truly cared for on our campuses.
I am excited about the more holistic view of student and school performance Superintendent Carvalho has outlined in his 100-Day Plan. Meeting the social and emotional needs of our students became a priority during the pandemic and should continue to be the foundation of our work in the coming years. We are learning and understanding how all the events of the past two years have affected and continue to affect our students. Assessing their progress through standardized testing alone would be an inadequate measure of the ways our students have grown and developed. In reimagining learning for our students, I hope the superintendent will focus on the importance of embedding Transformative SEL throughout our curriculum and instruction. We must use our school climate surveys to guide investment of federal and state monies into programs, resources, and staff which will help our students develop academically and emotionally.
I hope the superintendent’s staffing plan to support schools will truly help teachers to thrive as we recalibrate instruction. Although we are up against both a student and staff shortage, we can shift policy to do what is best for teachers and students. In my 14 years of teaching, I thought nothing could be more difficult than the year we spent online, building classroom community through screens and trying to learn content in the context of a global pandemic, racial and political violence, and social justice uprising. But this current year has continued to be a challenge as we balanced the safety, mental health, and academic needs of our students with our own needs and those of our own families. I have heard the frustrations of exhausted veteran teachers considering early retirement and cried with my early-career mentees who are increasingly doubtful of their choice to become teachers. While Superintendent Carvalho is a proponent of data analysis, I want him to know the stories and lives behind those numbers. We must use this 100-Day Plan to invest in our teachers by providing differentiated professional development, adequate resources for expanded learning opportunities including dual language programs, and dedicated planning and preparation time so teachers can support each other in best practices.
Superintendent Carvalho, you are joining our district at a point of transition. As you begin your tenure with LAUSD, you should continue to listen to the voices of all stakeholders, especially students and teachers, to guide you in delivering on the promises of an equitable, transparent, and affirming learning experience for all students. As a teacher, I am here to show up, step up, and speak up for the needs of my colleagues and students. I know they have many more questions and suggestions for you, and I invite you to my classroom to hear directly from my amazing, thoughtful third graders. I look forward to seeing how your proactive approach will support all students, and especially our most underserved students in Los Angeles.
Meghann Seril, NBCT is a third-grade teacher in the Mandarin dual-language program at Broadway Elementary in Venice, a Los Angeles Unified public school. She is a Teach Plus Senior Research Fellow.