Montclair student equity advocate
Joseph Graham, Montclair’s first student equity advocate, speaks during the Dec. 17, 2018 board of education meeting. That evening, the district sought to clarify some of the topics that Graham mentioned when he first spoke to the public on Nov. 7.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair schools are going to keep their student equity advocate position, but it will be under a different name.

At the Oct. 7 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced that the student equity advocate will be known as the student and family coordinator. The revised job description was approved at that same meeting.

The coordinator, as with the student equity advocate, will report to the assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction. The job goal reads as follows:  “To provide guidance and advocacy for students and/or parents/guardians to address individual or systematic systems that underserve traditionally marginalized students. To support the assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction in the following: collecting data, researching and addressing issues of equity, linking students and their families to school and community resources and  reviewing attendance and discipline, communicating with administration, counselors, students and families and address questions, concerns and/or misinformation.”

The coordinator’s assigned duties are largely the duties that were posted for the student equity advocate on the district website. 

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Joseph Graham was appointed as the first, and to date only, student equity advocate in 2018. Graham no longer had the position as of March, due to what he said were budget decisions. 

In 2015, the Achievement Gap Advisory Panel recommended that the district have a student equity advocate to assist students and families, especially students and families of color, in advocating for their needs in the classroom. 

However, the change of the position’s name raised some concerns at the BOE meeting. 

Kellia Sweatt of the National Independent Black Parents Association, which had pushed extensively for the creation of an equity advocate position, said the change of name was disturbing. 

“An advocate and a coordinator are two very different things. An advocate privately and publicly supports and fights for those in need. A coordinator is simply a job to organize events and activities,” Sweatt said. 

Ponds said that he had done his research into the role of the student equity advocate, and understood the importance of the position. 

“Please. Understand that we do care dearly, and that position is there to support all children and all families, especially our marginalized children and families,” he said. 

Genesis Whitlock, the BOE’s student representative, said the most important aspects of the role were the words “equity” and “advocate.” 

“How can we ensure that it’s happening when it’s not clearly stated?” she said. “I think that we can all agree that we want to move forward, and we can do that when we look back and respect the progress that has already been made by the student equity advocate. I don’t see a need for changing the name if it’s further expanding on the role.” 

She said that she would bring to the next BOE meeting statements from students, including on how the advocate had helped them.