The Director for Equity and Excellence works closely with school leaders to identify strengths and areas of growth through a lens of equity, and developing improvement strategies that will best serve each school community.
What attracted you to Somerville Public Schools?
My introduction to Somerville Public Schools came during my doctoral residency as the Superintendent’s Fellow. It was a great opportunity to learn from Superintendent Mary Skipper. I’ve met amazing community members and staff who are deeply committed to equity.
Superintendent Skipper has a strong vision for advancing equity in the schools and making sure students get what they need. That’s a place I wanted to work. But it’s Somerville students who really made me want to stay in Somerville as Director of Equity and Excellence. Working with Somerville students for the last year really inspired me, particularly the way they exercise agency around issues.
How do Somerville Public Schools compare to other districts you’ve seen?
Somerville is the most diverse district I’ve worked in. That diversity goes deeper than just race or language. We have families who have lived in Somerville for several generations, and we have families who have just arrived and are bringing experiences from other places to make the community even richer. I have seen many examples of how diversity is beautiful and an asset here. It’s a model for other places. I feel blessed and privileged and also a tremendous sense of responsibility to my work to build on what’s already here.
What current initiatives in Somerville Public Schools excite you?
There is a lot going on in the district that’s exciting. I’ve met many educators who have focused on advancing equity in the district for a long time. There is the Equity Team at Somerville High School, Educators for Sanctuary Schools throughout the district, and I loved watching student-led advocacy. I spent time at Somerville High School talking with inspiring student activists in groups like the Black Student Union. Anytime I see student leadership like that, I’m inspired in my work. I am also really excited about the partnerships that are happening, especially those that aim to advance equity in programming like the Calculus Project. ELPAC is doing wonderful advocacy work with parents who are English learners, making sure that parents have the resources to support their students.
Your title is the Director for Equity and Excellence. How will you approach equity in your role?
In a truly equitable environment, gaps are not predictable based on any demographic description. That includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language acquisition status, neighborhood, ability, income level, religion, and other variables. I will work with all stakeholders to remove barriers existing in schools and ensure all students have access to the education they deserve. I will collaborate with principals and school leadership teams to assess where their schools are and to choose a focus for their professional development that furthers the success of all the students in the building. These conversations will be data driven. We are looking at eliminating persistent and predictable gaps.
How has your personal or professional experience informed your approach to equity?
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I’ve remained in education because so many of my core values are aligned with my work. Particularly, my core values of justice, community, and collective responsibility. Before coming to SPS, I was a teacher and principal. I worked in schools where students, staff, and families boldly and unapologetically challenged the status quo. I have seen the impact that a strong partnership between community, families, and schools can have. I’ve watched amazing children achieve at rates that reject the current, dominant narrative about the ways in which students from low income backgrounds and students of color perform. And this is achievement defined in many more ways than only academically. Over the past ten years, I also observed the opposite. I’ve learned the harsh impact that low expectations, implicit bias, and weak partnerships can have. I am excited about all the work that is already happening in SPS, and for the opportunity to build on it.
How do you see your first year at SPS unfolding?
My job is to make sure that equity is at the center of conversations. During my first year, I will continue building on relationships I started with students, families, educators, and school leadership. I plan to do a lot of listening, as I facilitate focus groups with district partners and school community members who are working on equity. I would like to be a thought partner in creating solutions together, working collaboratively with leadership to create sustainable systems and cultures to support equity.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I spend most of my free time with my baby and watching him grow. He’s 10 months old. He’s amazing and it has informed my views as an educator. I ran cross-country in college, and ran the New York City marathon in 2010, and I’m always looking for my next good book!
Dr. Jessica Boston Davis
Dr. Davis graduated this spring with a Doctorate in Education Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Previously, she earned a BA in Child Development from Spelman College, a Master’s in Teaching from Hunter College, and a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Davis has been an elementary school teacher, principal, and teachers’ coach, and spent time professionally in Kenya and South Africa. She is the newly hired Director for Equity and Excellence at Somerville Public Schools.
Visit the new Department of Equity and Excellence Webpage.
R. Ronen, Communications Specialist