By Dr. Shawnterra Moore
As a young African-American girl being raised by a single parent, I had no true understanding of the statistics that forecasted my future. My mother was single, not by choice; my father was gunned down a few months before I was born, but she was an educated woman who emphasized the importance of education. I was very successful academically; however, the harsh realities of the world in which we lived hit me upon entrance to college. I attended a Jesuit university comprised of the most amazing and faculty, staff and student body. However, it was not without some challenges that I survived and eventually thrived.
One professor doubted my ability to succeed in his class. After receiving a B on an exam, for which I had studied diligently and in which felt confident of earning an A, I headed to his office. I communicated my concern for my grade and explained how thorough my responses had been and wanted to get a better understanding of his expectations. Without hesitation, this professor told me that I could transfer out of his class because there was no way I was going to get a grade higher than a C. I couldn’t quite understand how he would be able to foreshadow my grade when the quarter had just begun. It became painfully clear to me that the color of my skin was the problem in this instructor’s eyes. He was telling me that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough or worthy enough to earn anything higher than a C. He was telling me that he didn’t believe in me or my abilities. Though I’d experienced challenges similar to this throughout my K-12 schooling, this was the most blatant experience I’d had in the academic arena where I had to confront a professor’s conscious or unconscious bias about my abilities.
After recently attending the California School Boards Association Annual Conference, I was encouraged to find that it reinforced how important it is that the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees and I continue to maintain a laser-like focus on disparities in our district and work diligently (with our community) to provide all students with the support needed to succeed and achieve equitable outcomes. Analyzing one’s data to identify disparities is a good way to initiate this work. Sitting through the sessions, I recalled the feeling of despair and disheartenment I felt as a student, and I never want our students in SSFUSD to feel the same pain I experienced, particularly for circumstances in which they have no control.
CSBA seeks to empower school boards and superintendents to work collectively and intentionally to engage in conversations that will challenge educators to think about our current practices, programs and policies, and then purposefully work together to disrupt inequitable practices and/or conditions so that all students have equitable access and opportunities to achieve at high levels. This includes examining structures and conditions within school districts to see if we are unintentionally creating barriers for some.
So, this conference reaffirmed my passion for why I became an educator and why I am blessed to serve with our school board and colleagues who truly care about the needs of all students. Not only do I want to live a purpose-driven life to serve and advocate for all, especially those most in need, but I have a deep belief and moral impetus to ensure all children can be successful because of the efforts of the adults with whom they interact. To live our vision and mission, it is necessary we truly reflect on our own belief systems first, and deliberately make decisions to do something different that will positively impact the lives of our students.
In SSFUSD, we are on an amazing educational journey. Although we have a long way to go to ensure we are serving all students exceptionally well, meeting their needs appropriately and timely, we have the drive and determination to reflect on our practices, our beliefs and our systems so that we can evolve, adapt and work as an entire district community to create systems to ensure success for our students.
Dr. Shawnterra Moore is the superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District. This commentary was first published in the San Mateo Daily Journal.