District to reconvene alignment work groups, implement ethnic studies graduation requirement

March 30, 2023 — by Avani Kongetira and Shaan Sridhar
Graphic by LGSUHSD
District staff presented a comparison of graduation requirement differences between Saratoga High and Los Gatos High at the special board meeting on Feb. 13.
The board approved a plan to further discuss the alignment of graduation requirements at both school sites, following a previous work group’s recommendation and a state ethnic studies graduation mandate.

The school board gave approval for the district to move forward with the alignment of graduation requirements at a special meeting on Feb. 13, following in steps of the recommendation from a previous work group in November 2021 and in anticipation of AB 101, which requires students in the Class of ‘30 and onwards to take an ethnic studies course before graduation.

The district hopes to convene work groups composed of all stakeholder groups between March and November 2023 to discuss aligning graduation requirements across Saratoga High and Los Gatos High as well as how to implement the ethnic studies requirement at both school sites. The groups will present a recommendation to the board from December 2023 to January 2024, with the goal of implementing any new policies by August 2025, in time for the 2025-26 school year.

The new timeline follows the work of the Curriculum Pathways Alignment Work Group, which was convened in late 2021 by former superintendent Michael Grove in order to examine the differences in curriculum pathways between the district’s two school sites. When the group presented to the board in November 2021, three members of the former school board voted in favor of graduation requirements alignment, while two members voted for full alignment of all core course pathways. The meeting was contentious, drawing strong opposition from dozens of teachers and parents, and the district ultimately tabled the topic to revisit it at a later date.

With new superintendent Bill Sanderson in charge and the board reshaped in the November election, the district brought back the topic in light of AB 101 and the board’s current strategic goals, which include finishing discussions of curriculum alignment. The board expressed some skepticism toward the topic at first during the meeting, a significant departure from the previous board; guidance was clear that any continuing efforts would concern only graduation requirements alignment and not course pathways alignment, in keeping with the original work group’s recommendation.

Multiple members asked why the issue was still relevant and why the district should spend its resources working through the issue. While Sanderson said misalignment of graduation requirements is not actually affecting the education value of students at either school site, he attributed the importance of the issue to AB 101 and legal liabilities (a parent could theoretically sue a school site for noncompliance if the district policies are not properly updated, he said).

The board also spent a significant amount of time discussing the future implementation of the state ethnic studies requirement in the district. Assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Deepka Mukherjee explained how the requirement affects the graduation requirements discussion as well: At Saratoga High, the ethnic studies elective satisfies the World Geography graduation requirement, while at Los Gatos High, the ethnic studies class is not required because there is no freshman history requirement.

The graduation requirements at SHS and LGHS are almost identical with the minor exception of freshman history. At SHS, freshmen must take a semester of either World Geography or Ethnic Studies and a semester of Health and Drivers’ Education to fulfill their freshman history and health graduation requirements, while freshmen at LGHS have no such requirements. Because of this, LGHS students are required to take two semesters more worth of electives than SHS students.

Mukherjee stated that the current one-semester ethnic studies class at both schools is not the only way the district can satisfy the state’s requirement. Other options she noted included incorporating ethnic studies content into English curriculums and creating a year-long class — the only restriction is that the ethnic studies content must be the “primary” content of the course for at least a semester, according to state rules.

The board directed the district to consult staff and the community in the upcoming work groups to discern the best option for the community. While multiple members expressed excitement about combining ethnic studies content with English, history or math classes, they ultimately said that each school’s staff should determine the best course of action.

Mukherjee emphasized that the district wants to involve staff and community stakeholders as much as possible throughout the graduation requirements alignment and ethnic studies process in order to make sure they are following the best options. She added  it is vital staff are excited about the changes and that neither ethnic studies nor graduation requirements alignment becomes a burden on staff.

“I want our teachers to be excited about this opportunity, and not just look at it as ‘how is this going to disrupt what we already have,’” she said. “I think we have the beginnings and potential for more exciting work forward in many ways, if we can get folks excited.”