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Our Commitment to Equity

Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy (PIRL)

The Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy course (PIRL) at Princeton High School had 100 students enrolled in January; another 100 will take the course in March. it will be a requirement for graduation beginning in 2025.

The Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy (PIRL) online course was piloted in fall 2020.

This course explores critical self-reflection, critical humility, and critical love as a foundation for a life-long commitment to anti-racist practice using anonymized, self-paced participation. It is part of a broader continuum of teaching and learning goals to embrace multicultural education and transformative school culture

Three stakeholder cohorts have access to the course between September 2020 and May 2021.

  • Cohort I will hadaccess to the course from September through November.
  • Cohort II has access from mid-December through mid-February.
  • Cohort III will have access from March through May.

Extended learning opportunities will allow participants to join book clubs and design curriculum for use in their classroom. Activities may be used as part of or as the basis for teachers’ alternative professional projects (APP).

This is a Tier II module in our district’s expanding offerings to support racial literacy and anti-racism. Participants must have completed the Tier I module related to foundational concepts regarding equity.


Racial Literacy Courses at Princeton High School

This year, Princeton High School has expanded its racial literacy offerings to include PIRL—Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy—anon-line racial literacy course based on the popular elective taught by Joy Barnes-Johnson and Patricia Manhart. The course taught by Ms. Barnes-Johnson and Ms. Manhart is seen as transformative. “Nobody leaves the course as they enter it,” says one staff member. They want to do more.”

For junior Faria Majeed, doing more meant working with fellow students to found a social justice club called C.A.R.E., for Cultural and Racial Equity. CARE gives students opportunities to discuss and advance perspectives gleaned from the class and from students’ own research. “Our goal is to educate within the PHS community,” Faria says. “Being racially literate is an essential skill that is so important for, not only present day America, but future America.” 

The course offers a chance to explore “the deeper meaning of the word ‘race’,” says senior Alicia Livingston. “Being an African American female, the lessons taught are very helpful in my life,” she adds. 

Dr. Barnes-Johnson, a science teacher, and Ms. Manhart, a social studies teacher, originated the racial literacy course in spring 2018 in part as a response to student advocacy. “Just like any youth movement, the students were looking at what was going on close to them, looking at what was going on in the world and saying, ‘Can we do something?’” Dr. Barnes-Johnson remembers. Among teachers, the antecedents for the course went three or four years further back, to conversations led by Spanish teacher Martha Hayden, “who imagined a Socratic or discussion-based exploration that she called ‘transformative pedagogy’.” The conversation grew to include teachers across disciplines and explored topics including race, ethnicity, language, sociology, technology, and science. Lenora Keel engaged students through the Minority Student Achievement Network. By the time students were making their voices heard about addressing racial equity in the curriculum, there were teachers who had prepared the ground through their own teaching and advising. The high school was able to respond quickly. 

Like Ms. Hayden’s transformative pedagogy, the racial literacy course features an interdisciplinary conversation about intersecting topics, including race in the 21st century, history, the invention of race, politics, economics, housing, education, aesthetics, and crime and punishment, says Ms. Manhart. The course culminates with a capstone project the teachers call a transfer product, in which students take what they have learned and “present it outward into the community in order to move other people on their own journeys toward racial literacy,” Ms. Manhart notes. 

The racial literacy course has become a linchpin, as the district has begun to expand its curricular offerings for students at all levels. A racial literacy course was implemented this year for pupils in Princeton’s pre-kindergarten through first grade classes. The next step will be to extend that framework into a full revision reaching pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students via social studies and English language arts/literacy. That program is slated to begin in September 2021. 

In the meantime, Dr. Barnes-Johnson and Ms. Manhart are pleased to see teachers and staff districtwide receiving racial literacy training, both in person and online. Ms. Manhart works with a team led by Supervisor of Humanities Keisha Smith-Carrington that provides a professional development module called Equity Model 1: Foundational Skills, Knowledge and Dispositions. This training is a prerequisite for the Princeton Introduction to Racial Literacy, an online course that eventually will be available to students, as well. “We believe there’s a cursory knowledge that every person in our community should have,” says Dr. Barnes-Johnson.  

“We hope that students will go from the required class into the elective and from the elective to apply those understandings to their other coursework,” she adds. “Eventually, they will have the ability to use critical race theory as a basis in all of their study.” 

Equity at the Middle School

A student-driven effort to select a new name for the middle school to has been a top priority in 2021. Student presentations created by 8th graders have been presented to all middle school students during community period and students have had the opportunity to vote on potential new names for the school.  Principal Jason Burr provides monthly updates to the Board of Education Equity Committee. A new name will be selected by June 30, 2021.

The name change project stems from a 2020 discussion to remove the name John Witherspoon, a slaveholder, from the school. The Board of Education approved Princeton Unified Middle School (PUMS) as a temporary name. Students will determine a new name that is aligned with the school's values.

For more details about equity and the renaming process at the middle school, please see the Middle School Renaming Page.

Early Childhood Racial Literacy Project 2021

This year, the district received a grant to engage in a three-phase racial literacy project for Pre-K to first grade. The library/media specialists engaged in specialized training to teach the four domains of racial justice through authentic books featuring diverse characters, authors, and settings.  The grant funded new titles for our elementary school libraries and classroom.  Additionally, the grant funded the purchase of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad's book, Cultivating Genius.  for a district wide, staff book club.  The grant will also covered the cost of Library Media curriculum revision to include a racial literacy lens. 

 In addition, the grant supported the updating of library and humanities curriculum based on the Social Justice Standards--a road map for anti-bas education at every stage of K-12 instruction.

Racial Literacy Curriculum and Teacher Training

The district is in the process of expanding racial literacy curriculum for grades 2 through 5. Keisha Smith-Carrington leads a team which trains teachers across the district in the prerequisite for participation in PIRL. The teacher training course is called Equity Model 1: Foundational Skills, Knowledge, and Dispositions. It is part of the district-level investment to address equity.  

Equity in Education

Imagine a world without racism. A world in which all people move freely and without fear. A world in which levels of education and information are accessible to all. A world in which the ideas, contributions, and culture of each individual are celebrated.  

The mission of Princeton Public Schools is to prepare all children to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society. 
As a district, we want every child, regardless of race, religion, country of origin, economic status, sexual identity, gender, gender identity, or learning differences, to fully reach their potential. We want to be a school district where systemic bias or racism quite simply cannot be found. We know this is immense in scope, and know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are committed to this work. 

Read about the Equity Audit Report.

Equity Principles

Educational Equity is about individuals, relationships and systems. A school that is educationally equitable is one in which we accept and value all individuals for who they are, and provide the structures, relationships, and resources they need to achieve their greatest potential.  It is a school committed to educating globally skilled and engaged citizens who will contribute to the creation of a more just world. In achieving equity in the Princeton Public Schools, we are guided by the following principles. 
  1. We are color brave* – not color blind.
  2. We provide access to academic and extra-curricular opportunities to all – without barriers and with support.
  3. We are committed to building a diverse staff reflective of our student body.
  4. We are committed to building and broadening the cultural responsiveness of our staff, students and families, specifically, our ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people from all cultures and backgrounds.
  5. We are committed to building, supporting, and regularly revising a high quality, diverse curriculum that is representative of the world and of the multiple narratives of the human experience.
  6. We are committed to communication with families that is
    • Open
    • Responsive
    • Two-way
    • Inviting
    • Sensitive
    • Inclusive
  7. We are committed to examining our data
    • Objectively
    • Courageously
    • Diversely
    • Regularly
  8. We are committed to upholding a Code of Conduct that is reflective of cultural differences and encompasses universal expectations of care, kindness, and restorative justice.
  9. We are committed to getting to know our students as individuals and as learners and to being responsive to them in our teaching.
  10. We are committed to practices that cultivate empathy and to the creation of a community in which everyone feels they belong.

Cultural Responsiveness

Princeton Public Schools is working on increasing racial literacy and cultural responsiveness among both our staff and our students. Racial literacy can be defined in terms of understanding the experiences and perspectives of those whose cultures and colors might be different than our own. Racial literacy can be defined in terms of our awareness of our own biases. And racial literacy can be defined in terms of our willingness and ability to honestly acknowledge racial issues as they arise and work to address them. As a district, we are striving to do all of those things.

Investing in a Diverse Staff

The Princeton Public School District is proud to be a diverse district, with students from many different backgrounds and cultures attending our schools. We know how important it is for students to see educators who look like them in positions of leadership in their classrooms and schools. We also know that the more diversity we have among our educators, the better our schools will be for all students. Our goal is to attract, develop, inspire, and retain a diverse workforce within a supportive environment, and to foster pride in our vision, mission, and values among all employees.

Current Initiatives

National African American Read-In
One Book, One District: Please Join Us in Reading "Sing A Song"
Updated February 1, 2021

For the second year, Princeton Public Schools will partner with the Princeton Public Library to carry out the National African American Read-In. This month-long event (established by the NCTE) is intended to celebrate texts written by African-Americans.

This year, the committee has selected one title that will be used to not only unify efforts to implement the initiative but also allow the initiative to expand into the visual and performing arts.

The title of the text is Sing A Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Keith Mallett. This powerful book informs readers of the history of a song known to many as the “Black National Anthem.”

In support of the PPS/PPL Community AARI One Book, One District read, the committee planned activities that include art, music, poetry, and history. A copy of the book is available in each school and distributed to identified teachers by each school’s Library Media Specialist.

Specific information about the StoryWalk® that will be launched at the Princeton Public Library to connect PPS activities with the Princeton community. We will share that later this week.

Photo of cover of Sing A Song


Advancing Social Justice and Cultural Responsiveness

The racial literacy curriculum adopted in 2020-2021 for pupils in Princeton’s pre-kindergarten through first grade classes has a strong foundation in pedagogies developed to advance social justice, cultural responsiveness, and multiculturalism.  

“All of these are predicated on the belief that any work that you do starts with yourself,” says Keisha Smith-Carrington, supervisor of humanities for grades pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. “The focus begins with understanding our identities, and understanding that each of us has multiple identities through which we experience the world. As part of that, we begin to understand and value others’ identities that are not like ours. 

“By developing an appreciation for others, we begin to see the benefits of diversity,” she adds. 

Justice and Fairness 

The next concept to address is justice. “Especially the little ones, they understand the concept of what's fair,” says Ms. Smith-Carrington. “So we begin to talk about fairness, as it relates to justice, so that young children can understand whether or not a situation is in the best interest of all of the people involved and can begin to identify when things are not just. Finally, we move toward a conversation about, when they see a situation that is unjust, what might be developmentally appropriate action.” 

These four overlapping concepts--identity, diversity, justice, and action--form a curricular framework that is extensible from early childhood through adulthood. Articulated by the early childhood educator and theorist Louise Derman-Sparks in the 1990s, they have been promulgated in teaching standards for grades kindergarten through 12th grade via the Teaching Tolerance program of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Evolving Curriculum 

The curriculum in use in Princeton this year was developed over the summer by Ms. Smith-Carrington and others as a revision of the library/media component of the pre-kindergarten through first grade program. The next step is to extend the framework into a full revision reaching pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students via social studies and humanities. That program is slated to begin in September 2021. 

The larger revision will draw on the work of Gholdy Muhammad, a teacher and literacy scholar, whose pedagogy builds on the Teaching Tolerance standards to address what she calls “historically responsive literacy.” Muhammad offers her own four-tiered learning framework: 

  • Identity development—helping youth to make sense of themselves and others 

  • Skill development— developing proficiencies across the academic disciplines 

  • Intellectual development—gaining knowledge and becoming smarter 

  • Criticality—learning and developing the ability to read texts (including print and social contexts) to understand power and equity. 

“In places like Princeton, we are working to develop our students to be intellectual and to begin to have those higher levels of critical thinking,” observes Ms. Smith-Carrington. “Criticality is the question that goes a bit further, because it's not only talking about whether things are just in the ways that we've looked at them legally and based on our own societal norms, but looking at whether they really are equitable--and whether there are actions that should be taken in order to move us toward true equity, and true justice, beyond the letter of the law.” 

Teaching the Teachers 

The curricular revision requires training, according to Ms. Smith-Carrington. “You can't expect adults to teach something that they haven't been taught or that they don't have understanding about. True diversity and justice work is not from materials that you're given. It's from the ways that you use the materials and the resources that you have.” 

Training began with elementary-level library media specialists and is continuing with all those who will write or teach the revised curriculum from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Ms. Smith-Carrington also envisions a book study program that would be available to interested staff based on Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. 

A grant of more than $41,000 from an anonymous donor has supported the curriculum revision plus the acquisition of books for the elementary library collections. “We're working to make sure that the texts that we're using for instruction are truly representative of the people that we have in our world and the stories that exist in our world,” says Ms. Smith-Carrington, “so that we are making sure that conversations can begin to happen that reach that level of criticality that Dr. Muhammad talks about. We are really trying to make sure that we're being very intentional about the ways that we're teaching children to be reflective.” 

photo of Keisha Smith Carrington

Equity Goals 2021

Among the goals for 2021:

  • Defining Equity for the Princeton Public Schools
  • PPS Equity Impact Assessment
  • PPS Equity Access Fund (district line item, perhaps additional grant funding)
  • Measuring the 28 Equity Programs in the District
  • Public Dashboard of Data 

The current PPS equity statement: "The mission of Princeton Public Schools is to prepare all children to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society. As a district, we want every child, regardless of race, religion, country of origin, economics status, sexual identity, gender, gender identity, or learning differences to fully reach their potential. We want to be a school district where systemic bias or racism quite simply cannot be found. WE know this is immense in scope, and know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are committed to this work."

The Equity Committee will meet on the following dates in 2021: March 8, April 12, May 10, June 14, July 12, August 9, September 13, October 11, November 8, and December 13.

The March 8, 2021 meeting will be at 7 PM via Zoom. The Zoom link will be posted on the district calendar 48 hours prior to the meeting. The meetings are open to the public and all are welcome. The committee is chaired by Debbie Bronfeld and Betsy Kalber Baglio. Stephanie Tidwell is the administrative liaison.