On July 16, Tracy Fray-Oliver, Senior Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center, presented a recap on the School System Partnerships and Programs (SSPP) team’s first year of work with Yonkers Public Schools at the Gates Foundation Networks for School Improvement convening. The center’s partnership with the city helps more Black, Latino, and low-income students complete 8th grade math, with longer-term goals of supporting these students in earning a high school diploma, enrolling in a postsecondary institution, and being on track in their first year to obtain a credential with labor-market value.
During her presentation, Fray-Oliver explored what factors influence the learning experiences and outcomes of Yonkers students and shared how teachers and district leaders can support deeper and more equitable learning for all students.
“Yes, we were going to do data-driven processes to look at the system, we were going to identify root causes, develop change ideas, and run small tests, but it also meant that we were going to bring our understanding of child development and adult learning as a lens—specifically thinking about how these factors intersect with race and culture,” Fray-Oliver said about the center’s approach to the work.
Through research about the history of the city, SSPP learned that in 1980 a federal judge found that Yonkers had intentionally segregated the city’s housing and public schools along the lines of race. Looking at the impact of this history and examining how it has shaped the school district was an essential part of the work.
Additionally, SSPP reviewed the structure of the district and discovered that Yonkers transitioned from a model with separate elementary and middle schools to a model with kindergarten through 8th grade schools, which caused most schools to have only one middle school math teacher.
Fray-Oliver shared that this meant that “middle school math teachers rarely had colleagues to have conversations about content with. It meant a large majority of the school-based professional development was elementary focused [and] as a result, [Yonkers] middle school math teachers have few opportunities to grapple with content together or reflect on their roles in leading the educational development of adolescents who are in a very different place developmentally than their lower grade children.”
Fray-Oliver then shared with the audience how her own experiences in school affected her and why she is so passionate about the Bank Street Education Center’s work with Yonkers Public Schools and Bank Street’s commitment to expanding equity in education. She explained that as a child she loved school, but was challenged with having to experience and make sense of inequities in her community.
Fray-Oliver closed the presentation with a powerful question:
“What if kids who look like me didn’t have to work so hard to navigate school and access opportunity because there were adults like all of us full of purpose and doing the work to fulfill the promise of an equitable education for them?”
The Networks for School Improvement project by the Gates Foundation focuses on supporting middle and high schools in their work to help students of color and low-income students succeed. Bank Street was selected as one of 21 organizations to be a part of the first cohort in August last year and will continue its work through December 2019.