The Holland Sentinel

HOLLAND, Mich. — Students of color and of low socioeconomic status don’t do as well as their white peers in Holland Public Schools.

That reality – as stark as it may be – is one that administrators in Holland are approaching head-on this year.

In June 2014, the district was delivered a report from an equity audit – based on interviews with staff, teachers, students and parents. The resulting data was compelling: Teachers often lowered expectations and used different attitudes for students of color and of low socioeconomic status.

Superintendent Brian Davis is now working to embolden teachers, staff and administrators to ensure equity of opportunity for students of all backgrounds.

“This will not change overnight,” Davis told The Holland Sentinel ( ). “Our journey is just beginning. … If this were easy to fix, there wouldn’t be achievement gaps.”

Davis is leading the change, enlisting the aid of two Michigan State University researchers to provide data and a map forward: Dorinda Carter Andrews and Muhammad Khalifa.

The audit revealed disparities in perceptions between teachers and students. Though many teachers felt they were doing their best to create welcoming, safe environments, African-American and Latino students reported that they feel bullied by teachers at times and that teachers get frustrated easily.

When asked if teachers in the school respect students’ cultural differences, black teachers that responded disagreed, 22 percent of Latino teachers disagreed and 72 percent of white teachers disagreed.

The equity audit came out of a strategic planning process the district underwent that exposed the achievement gaps. After learning about a similar effort East Lansing Public Schools made, Davis engaged the MSU team.

“This became a strong passion for me to say, we really need to do something different,” Davis said.

The MSU researchers found a common attitude among HPS teachers: There was a quickness to blame students’ performance on their home life.

“Principals do confirm that teachers are more likely to blame students and families for low academic performance and also hold lower expectations for some students,” the audit reads. “As one principal stated, ‘Teachers care, but lower expectations for some students.”’

About half of the students enrolled in HPS are Hispanic or Latino – 47 percent this school year. But when it comes to staffing, the majority of teachers 92 percent are white. That disparity is something Davis said he is hoping to change in the future.

In his opening day talk with teachers this fall, Davis reminded his staff of the implicit bias that everyone carries.

“We need to move away from the blame, shame and guilt,” Davis said.

Holland teachers will be going through a two-year process to learn how to develop culturally responsive classrooms. They’re also beginning to implement restorative justice practices in their classrooms.

The professional development is one piece of the puzzle.

For the first time, Holland Public Schools observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Throughout Black History Month, Davis’ staff posted videos of black community members sharing their experience growing up in Holland. Not all of it was positive – but it was honest, Davis said.