J. B. Young Opportunity Center main entrance is shown Jan. 15, at 1702 N. Main Street in Davenport.

Nearly a month ago, a state adviser told the Davenport School Board that “It’s really time” for the district to confront its disproportionality citation. At the board meeting Monday night, a roundtable with the board members, upper administration and equity and HR administrators discussed how to start in earnest.

Background: In April 2018, the district was cited for disproportionality, which refers to the disproportionate number of black students flagged for special education services, as well as the higher number of black and special education students who receive certain types of disciplinary action, including suspension, seclusion and restraint. According to data from the district, black students in Davenport schools account for 19.9% of the district’s population, but make up 42.2% of suspensions.

Conversation: Leading the conversation, Associate Superintendent Bill Schneden said the district was “not as far down the path” of addressing disproportionality as they like to think.

“We talked most recently about framing this work around thins like equity,” he said. “... We were slow to get started, and now we’re groping at what we can. We just had to get started.”

Sandy Schmitz, a state adviser, said the slowness to start was what ultimately triggered the Phase II audit.

“We’ve had to spend some significant time explaining the concept, recognizing that the data is true,” she said. “... This issue is the one that caused Phase II. This will also, in addition to the new citations, this still must be first and foremost in our minds and in our actions.”

The round table said they had to figure out how to “synthesize” data for the board, including looking at which data is the most important to monitor.

Board Director Julie DeSalvo said looking at which teachers were involved in particular behaviors would be important to “drill down” the issue of disproportionality, if that information could be shared.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of this,” she said. “We’re behind the eight ball, and we have to move and move fast.”

One question raised by Director Allison Beck was on how the district could hire more diverse staff, even if it wasn’t at the teacher level.

“One of the big things we know can change behaviors and affect a kid’s life is having someone who looks like them in an authority position,” she said.

In the past, Davenport had gone to historically black colleges and universities to recruit, HR and Equity Director Erica Goldstone said. But given the district laid off 75 certified staff this year to meet state budget requirements, Goldstone said they didn’t bother this year. Another ongoing problem was difficulties with teachers from out of state getting certified in Iowa, which might require three our four additional courses.

Schneden added that the district had recruited the one graduating black student from the University of Northern Iowa’s teaching college but, as a first year teacher, she was one of the 75 laid off.

“One of the big concerns that I’ve had is, how many times have we done this? Over and over again we have the same problems and we approach them,” said Director Clyde Mayfield, back for his first full meeting in months. “... We haven’t been successful for many years.”

Interim Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said Mayfield’s concerns were warranted.

“Until we bring you something of that nature, those are the kinds of questions we will continue to receive and should receive,” he said, adding that a new scorecard system for staff should help. “... Since I’ve been there, I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen anyone’s evaluation attached to that.”

Next Steps: While the district was legally cited for disproportionality, there’s not a strict timeline put in place — at either the state or federal level — with benchmarks for progress. As a systemic issue, the understanding is that it could take years to change the culture in Davenport schools. The district reports to the State Board of Education on Thursday to address 14 new citations.