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Just Communities' Call To Action

Dear Just Communities Supporter:

My name is Jarrod Schwartz. For the past 17 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading Just Communities here in California’s Central Coast. Recently, questions have been raised about our work with the Santa Barbara Unified School District by a lawyer representing a group of anonymous parents. Just Communities has been taking some time to review the complaints and the materials submitted by the lawyer to the school board and to local press.

After taking the time to review the materials and the claims, we now feel comfortable stating that the many of the materials claimed to be ours have in fact been altered. Many of the things described as being said or taking place during our workshops run counter to our curriculum, approach, and philosophy. At best, our work is being misrepresented; at worst, it is being distorted and doctored to support the claim that we are somehow anti-white and anti-Christian. We reject these claims and ask why, if the people behind them are so confident in their position, did they feel the need to alter our documents and misrepresent our work?

Just Communities was established in the Central Coast as a regional office of The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). NCCJ was, itself established in 1927 as The National Conference of Christians and Jews. It’s mission in 1927 was to forge interfaith alliances in order to combat religious bigotry and promote racial and economic justice. This mission is still alive in Just Communities’ current expanded mission to “advance justice by building leadership, fostering change, and dismantling all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression.” Just Communities is and always has been a collection of people from all walks of life, all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all socio-economic statuses, gender identities, sexes, sexual orientations, faith backgrounds, abilities, immigration statuses, and more. We are an organization that serves all members of our Central Coast communities with people of diverse backgrounds serving on our staff, our board of directors, as volunteers, as donors, and as contributors to our work and vision.

Though we work with all sectors of the community, our work with schools is where we started and where we have been most active. We began our partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District in 2005 in response to chronic and persistent achievement gaps in the district - gaps which mirrored those around the nation. Academic opportunity and achievement gaps had, at that time, begun to make local and national headlines. According to a statement from the College Board at that time, “On whatever measure one uses, from the SAT to the Stanford Nine, in school districts and schools across the country, irrespective of political orientation, demographic characteristics, or per pupil spending, there exists a gap between the academic performance of Black and Latino students on the one hand and white and Asian-American students on the other.”

The year we began our work together, California State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O’Connell had recently stated, “In California, the gap is defined as the disparity between the academic performance of white students and other ethnic groups; English learners and native English speakers; socioeconomically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students; and students with disabilities as compared with students without dis­abilities...the data also show the persistent achievement gaps in our system that California simply cannot afford to accept –morally, economically, or socially. This achievement gap cannot always be explained away because of the poverty that has been so often associated with low performance… The results show this explanation not to be universally true… In fact, African American and Hispanic students who are not poor are achieving at lower levels in math than their white counterparts who are poor…We must take notice and take action.”

SB Unified decided to take action and, together, we embarked on a concentrated and intentional effort to close the achievement gaps by focusing on instruction, curriculum, school climate and culture, and on institutional racism as one of the many causes of these gaps.

While we have heard from the attorney on behalf of a group of anonymous parents and educators that our work is anti-white and anti-Christian, we have not heard from him or those he represents for the last several decades when these achievement gaps remained unaddressed. Nor have we heard about the incredible success SB Unified has had in narrowing these gaps.

Since entering into a partnership with Just Communities in 2005, SB Unified has seen the following outcomes in the academic performance of Latinx students:

  • 43% increase in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency on National Standards at the elementary level;

  • 27% increase in elementary math proficiency on National Standards;

  • 70 point increase in elementary Academic Performance Index (API) scores;

  • 56% increase in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency on National Standards at the secondary level;

  • 50% increase in secondary math proficiency on National Standards;

  • 85 point increase in secondary Academic Performance Index (API) scores;

  • 55% increase in ELA CA High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) scores;

  • 41% increase in Math CAHSEE scores;

  • 101% increase in participation in the District's high rigor Academy programs

  • 200% increase in A-G completion rates

  • 50% decrease in discipline referrals & 35% decrease in suspensions

  • A narrowing of the gap in English Language Arts proficiency between white high school students whose parents are not college educated and who come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and Latinx students whose parents are college educated and who do not come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds from 36 points to 1 point.

These gains happened at a time when the national averages for Latinx students remained stagnant and at a time when achievement for white students in Santa Barbara Unified stayed the same in some areas and improved in other areas. It also happened at a time when Just Communities youth program graduates launched diversity clubs, Gay-Straight Alliances, and Trans-Cis alliances in all of our local high schools. Where parents who had gone through our PIDA program found their voices and began to work in partnership with their principals and teachers to improve and increase parent engagement, increase interpretation services, and bring more voices into PTSAs, School Site Councils, and ELAC groups across the district. Where educators who had gone through Just Communities’ Institute for Equity in Education began to see their students in new ways, ways that saw their strengths, their talents, and their struggles. Ways that allowed them to create more culturally relevant curriculum, improve relationships across lines of difference, and raise their expectations of all students.

In 2013, an independent evaluation of our partnership was conducted by two outside researchers. These researches found that “Just Communities accelerated change through its IEE and supplementary programming…This pilot study’s triangulation of policy, process, and achievement indicators along the theory of change are evidence that Just Communities made a measurable contribution to Latino Student Achievement.” (Rubayi Srivastava & Michelle Enriquez, Contribution Analysis: A Pilot Study, September 2013, pg. 7.)

The study also quoted numerous educators in the district who shared about the impact of our work:

“Just Communities was the spark that started the fire for all this work and helped us along in a way that you would hope any organization would and it was never about them and it was always about the kids and the schools.” (Ryan Gleason Director of Education and Leadership at Las Virgenes Unified School District, speaking during his time as Assistant Principal, Dos Pueblos High School)

“Teachers were frustrated by performance. For the first 3-4 years of IEE a lot of the staff members went. By having more people attend, the culture began to evolve with the critical mass. Change became more accessible at the school level.” (Lito Garcia, Principal, Santa Barbara Jr. High School, speaking of his time as Assistant Principal at La Colina Jr. High School)

“. . . a lot of focus on instruction and shifting our thinking also to what is good instruction and what is rigorous instruction, and having high expectations of students.” (Daisy Estrada Ochoa, Program Coordinator, Year-Round After School Programs, speaking during her time as a teacher at McKinley Elementary School, talking about how her school has applied their IEE learning)

“I firmly believe that we would not have made these achievement gains without the work of Just Communities and the Institute for Equity in Education. The fact is, despite good intentions, we had never made them before. I believe we needed the guidance and training that Just Communities provided.” (Annette Cordero, SBUSD School Board Member 2004-2012)

Our work with SB Unified has also been recognized nationally:

In 2007, the Institute for Democratic Renewal at the Claremont Graduate University (CGU) named Just Communities’ Institute for Equity in Education “the most promising vehicle for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities and narrowing the educational achievement gap in the country.”

And Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund, said: “If we are serious about ensuring that all children succeed, it is imperative that we courageously address the link between institutionalized racism and the academic achievement gap. Programs like Just Communities' Institute for Equity in Education are model programs that help educators do just that.”

I don’t doubt that our work has made some people uncomfortable. It is not a comfortable thing to examine inequity in our society, to explore how we may be impacted by it, to explore how we may even be participating in it. However, we cannot, as a society or a community eliminate the inequities that exist unless we address them openly and honestly.

We commend Santa Barbara Unified School District for their open and honest exploration of their district culture, climate, and practices. For their commitment to improve and grow. For believing in the potential of all students. For committing to a curriculum in which all students see themselves. For working to foster campus communities where all students feel safe, included, and successful.

There is work still to be done - there is not doubt about that - and Just Communities hopes to be able to continue to be a partner in that work until that work is no longer needed.

For more information or if accommodations are needed, please contact Melissa Patrino at 805-966-2063 or email us at

About Just Communities:

Just Communities offers cultural competency training to organizational leaders, education seminars for the general public, leadership training institutes for students and teachers, and customized consultation to local agencies for diversity, equity, inclusion and organizational change initiatives. Just Communities consciously works with people from a diverse cross-section of the community along the lines of race, income, gender, sexual orientation, age, and religious affiliation. Our expertise in human relations uniquely positions us to serve people and organizations in the education, health care, non-profit, government, and business sectors. The breadth of our vision statement to "ensure that all people are connected, respected, and valued" does not limit our service to a single constituency. Whether we are training educators to create more equitable and effective schools, health care providers on cultural competency, facilitating a diverse collaboration of service providers to address youth violence, or empowering at-risk teens as leaders in their schools, Just Communities continues to bridge differences among those of diverse backgrounds and cultures to strengthen the local community and advance social justice. Learn more at


As you may know, Just Communities has a long-standing relationship with the Santa Barbara Unified School District going back to 2002 with our first Safe Schools program. For the last several years, we have been contracted with SB Unified to provide our Institute for Equity in Education; Parents for Inclusion, Diversity, and Access (PIDA); Talking in Class; Language Justice services; and more.

Our agreement for the 2018/2019 school year was supposed to be signed at the school board meeting on September 11th, but an attorney representing a group of citizens threatened to sue the school board if they signed the contract.

This group has presented the school board with materials they claimed to be the property of Just Communities, but several pieces have been altered,distorted and misrepresented to claim our work is divisive, anti-white, and anti-Christian. We are working closely with SB Unified to provide them with any information they require.

We need your support in order to continue serving our community's students, parents, educators and the community at large. We are asking program participants who believe in our work to turn out for public comment at the upcoming October 9th school board meeting to talk about the importance of our work and the impact our programs have had on them and on our schools. The message needs to stay positive and not combative, but the Board needs to hear from people who value our work and they need to know why they value it.

So, if you feel that our work has had a positive impact on you, if you feel that it has allowed you to be more effective or serve your students more effectively, we'd love for you to come and share that with the school board.


Many of your have already contacted us asking how to support, We encourage you to attend the upcoming school board meeting on:

October 9th (6:30pm)

The October 9th meeting is when our contract will be placed on the agenda.

Location: 720 Santa Barbara Street

The SB Unified school district wants to hear from all of you. Please submit a request to speak during public comment at the beginning of the meeting. Below are some guiding questions and frequently asked questions if you have never been to a school board meeting.

What Just Communities program(s) have you participated in? What year(s)?

How has Just Communities impacted you and your school?

If you are unable to come or are uncomfortable speaking in person, you can also email comments to the school board members directly. Don’t forget to CC Just Communities’ Development & Communications Manager Melissa Patrino at in your email.

Email addresses are:

Jacqueline Reid, Board President

Wendy Sims-Moten, Board Vice-President

Laura Capps, Clerk

Ismael Ulloa

Kate Parker

Or you can mail a letter to:

Board of Education

Santa Barbara Unified School District

720 Santa Barbara Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Frequently Asked Questions:

Where is the Santa Barbara Unified School District office?

720 Santa Barbara Street (on the corner of Santa Barbara St. and De La Guerra St.)

Where are school board meetings held?

School board meetings are held at the district office, in the Board Room, unless otherwise noted.

Where do I park?

There is some visitor parking at the district office. There is also free street parking after 6:00pm. Make sure to arrive early to find parking or carpool.

What time does the school board meeting start?

School board meetings start at 6:30pm, but we encourage folks to arrive by 6:00pm to complete the request form to speak during public comment and find seating.

Are there opportunities to speak to the school board in person?

Yes. Speaking at the next school board meeting during public comment is a great way to get your voice heard.

Tuesday, October 9th: This is the night the board will vote on whether or not to continue to work with us. Public comment will be just before our agenda item. We don't yet know what time that will be. It could be anywhere from about 7pm to 10pm. We should know where we are on the agenda by the Friday before which will give us an estimated time frame. Again, speakers will have 3 minutes or 2 minutes.

Interpretation is being provided at the school board meeting. Those needing interpretation will have double the amount of minutes to speak (i.e. 3 or 2 minutes for their comments and 3 or 2 minutes for the interpreted version).

How do I sign up for public comment?

To speak during public comment you must complete a public comment request form prior to the start of the school board meeting (prior to 6:30pm). The public comment request form is printed on a half sheet that is located on a table by the Board Room entrance. Take a pen to complete the form.

How long do I get to speak during public comment?

Each person gets 3 minutes to speak during public comment unless there is a large number of speakers during which they will announce a reduced speaking time.

Can I give my public comment speaking time to someone else?

Yes. You can give your 3 minutes to speak to someone else. Make sure that they are prepared to speak and are on time or they will be skipped.

How do I categorize my public comment on the form?

In support of Just Communities

How long are school board meetings?

There is no official end time for school board meetings. On October 9th, we suspect that it will be a longer evening because our MOU will be placed on the agenda and we will be asking for all of our supporters to come out.

Where can I send a letter of support?

If you are unable to come or are uncomfortable speaking in person, you can also email comments to the school board members directly. Don’t forget to CC Just Communities’ Development & Communications Manager Melissa Patrino at in your email.

Emails and mailing address are listed above.

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