BUILDING TRUST: The District 200 school board is in the process of evaluating whether or not to approve a 1-year contract with Umoja Student Development Corporation. | UMOJA

The District 200 Board of Education is putting pressure on the vendor that provides restorative justice work at the high school. Before they can approve a $25,150 contract with Umoja Student Development Corporation, D200 board members have said, they need more information about the effectiveness of the company’s work in the classroom. 

During a Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 18, Lynda Parker, the district’s director of student services, briefed board members on the work Umoja performed under its contract last year, which included providing year-long professional development in restorative justice to 25 staff members, conducting four workshops on restorative justice and facilitating restorative justice training with board members. 

This year, Parker said, the administration plans to build on that work from last year. She said 15 of the 25 staff members who participated in professional development will undergo training to become “resident circle keepers,” who will be able to facilitate, and train their colleagues in, restorative justice practices throughout the school. Umoja will also help train teachers in OPRF’s English Division in restorative justice practices. 

The goal, Parker said, is to cultivate a culture of warmth throughout the school by deepening the bonds of trust between adults and students in the building. She said last year, faculty members were encouraged to greet students at doors and “find reasons each week” to do small acts of kindness. Restorative justice, done right, should help establish that culture, Parker said. 

But during the Sept. 18 meeting, most D200 board members expressed concerns about the lack of detail in Umoja’s contract, particularly when it comes to specifying deliverables related to last year’s work. 

D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said that last year, Umoja’s deliverables were tied to facilitating the training sessions. Mike Carioscio, D200’s chief operations officer, said that Umoja has been responsive to the district’s concerns. 

“What I was a little frustrated by is that we basically had all these activities, but it wasn’t clear where it was leading, so I’d asked them what it would look like, with your help, for us to change the culture and have more restorative practices,” Carioscio said. “In response to that, they gave us several pages of what they’d consider a multiyear plan of implementation.” 

“I’m sure if we asked them for an executive summary of what took place last year, they will produce it,” Pruitt-Adams said. 

“But the recommendations had to be based on the learning from last year and that’s the piece that, as a board, even approving a contract to continue to work with this group, it’s a big hole for me,” D200 board President Jackie Moore said. “I met with them. I think they’re lovely and it’s probably great work, but in terms of an investment, I don’t know how that informs their plan with our building. 

“In terms of the metrics, we’ve been talking about fidelity, and if they’re going to be doing coaching and things like that, then there’s data, there are deliverables, that they  should be giving us — whether it’s surveys or their observational data,” she said. “There are so many things that would inform this process for us and if we’re asking them to do this work, it’s their responsibility to inform that process and that is not reflected in the contract.” 

“That executive summary, or whatever you’re calling that report, should have an evaluative element to it,” said board member Ralph Martire. “They should say, ‘Here’s what worked well, here’s what didn’t work well, here’s why we’re recommending these steps going forward and without that it’s really hard to judge the long-term plan. So [Moore] is 100 percent right on that.” 

The board was scheduled to discuss the Umoja contract again at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 15, where members would vote on whether or not to advance the contract to a regular Oct. 24 meeting for final approval. That Oct. 15 meeting took place after this article went to press.


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