Building Successful Teaching Models – ep.113

 Beating the Odds – ep.112
October 26, 2023
Creating Freedom – ep.114
November 9, 2023

Author and powerhouse social justice advocate Kennetha Stevens shares her work within the Stockton Unified School District modifying teaching models and building better relationships between teachers and parents to effectively foster success in the education system and encourage a safe environment for children to learn and grow. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

I am just excited to have you on The Jali podcast. So, I’m so thankful that you have come on. So, thank you for being here.

Kennetha Stevens:  I am glad to be here with you, Melyssa. Such an awesome opportunity to just have an amazing conversation about work that’s happening in my journey. So, I’m excited to share with you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Well, this is awesome. I want to start out first, because everybody has a story, and the Jali was all about storytelling. So, I want to kind of just have you tell us how you got to be the person you are today. What does that journey look like?

Kennetha Stevens:  Such a long journey. Right? So, I think it really starts with the foundation of my parents. So, my parents have been together and married over 50 years. I’m the only girl, and the youngest of my siblings. So, I have this princess syndrome. Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kennetha Stevens:  I think that is a journey. I grew up in a house just filled with love, with my mom and dad, with my older brothers, always loving on me. Even to this day, they’ve all provided me with this princess syndrome, knowing how to navigate and negotiate a yes at any moment. I think that kind of started the journey, just having a house filled with love to really motivate and build me up as a young girl. That kind of just led to the life that I want to create. My life is to really inspire other people. I think that’s how it actually started for me.

I’m a mom and an advocate for social justice. I do this work because it’s the right thing to do. I do it because I want to encourage other women, and parents, to live their best and greatest life possible. Then, also, providing them with nuggets of information to be able to do that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and it’s been such a pleasure for me. I met you through the NAACP. You were very focused on education, at the time, and still are. I mean, how did you get into education. Where did that start? I know you said you’re an advocate for social justice, but it sounds like you have a lot within you that you really want to be involved, and not only involved for yourself and your own child, but for everybody’s children. I mean, you literally take on the world to say, “I am the voice. I’m going to not only show you how to do it, but I’m going to write books and show you how to do it. I am going to get involved and show you how to do it. I am going to shout from the rooftops and make sure that everybody has a voice.” Quite frankly, that’s a lot. So, talk to me a little bit about your focus on education. Then, I want to ask you about all the tons of books that you have going on, and how those came to be.

Kennetha Stevens:  Sure. So for me, it started being a mom. There was always this innate desire to do something. I didn’t know what that something was, but it just kept nudging at me. Every time I would decide to make a change in my life, it was like there was always this nudge. Something just didn’t feel like it was my total purpose.

So, I began volunteering at my daughter’s school when she was just a little kid. I first started when she was in the Christian Academy, but they didn’t really want parents to be involved, which is fine. It was okay. So, I understood that there was a door that was closed for me. Even though I’m paying tuition for my daughter to go to school, there was still this block, that they would only allow us to go so far with supporting our kids’ education.

So, I remember when I pulled her out of Christian private school and I put her in public school. There was just this door that was open for me to be free to support and volunteer in the classroom. Part of the pulling of my daughter, also, out of the Christian Academy was because my daughter had actually swallowed some coins. She was choking in class. I didn’t know, until after the fact, that this incident had occurred with my daughter. I was just so shocked. Like, “No one called me.” There was no support for me as a parent. If something would’ve happened, I probably wouldn’t have heard about it until my daughter was most likely at the hospital.

So, that really began to churn something in me to say, “Gosh. I really want to be involved in my daughter’s education. I want there to be two-way communication. When I’m on the school campus, I want to know the staff’s name. I want them to know my name, and I want them to know that I am there to be a help and to be a supporter.” So, I just started volunteering in my daughter’s classroom.

When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she had a principal who was connecting to Faith-based organizing. He would see me on campus. We would hi and bye. He began to get me involved, the school site council. We had the PTO at that time. Then, he sent me a letter, and in the letter he was just pointing out that I was a leader. No one had ever called me a leader before, not as an African American, young mom, in my 20s. No one had ever recognized me for being a leader. The letter just kind of struck me and I was just like, “Wow. He sees all these leadership qualities in me.”

He did because he begins. Every opportunity that there was to support education, whether it was a training, whether it was leading a presentation at the school site, he just created all of these opportunities for me to be able to engage as a single mom. Outside of all of the harsh things that are happening in the world, I just began to do work for the school.

I changed my career. I became, also, a faith-based organizer, really supporting my community, transforming one of our lowest performing schools here, in the city of Stockton, into a dependent charter school. It had not been producing what our students needed to be successful on the south side of Stockton. Organizing and training other parents to be leaders, to do good work, to connect and collaborate with the school site, and to build policy that would be successful for all students when they walk into the school sites.

So, that kind of began the journey for me having opportunities to support. I was Volunteer Parent of the Year a couple times. Sometimes I couldn’t get it, only because I had already had it the year before. So the principals told me, “We literally can’t let you monopolize. We want to give it to you, but you also need to make sure that there’s other parents coming behind you to get the award, as well.”

So, I just started off as a volunteer parent, doing the best, organizing parents, and looking at policies, and standing up for the things that I knew that was right for our students. As a parent, volunteering, you can see a lot of the systems that are not working for our kids. I just wanted to be a part of changing the policies, changing the systems, that when our kids go into the school, there are barriers that are there.

So, I began to do the work, and now I write about the work. I write about the things that allowed me to be successful, as a parent, to support my own daughter’s education. Now, I put the work out. I train, I provide leadership development. Gosh, I’ve even gone to the White House because of this work. I’ve done a lot of-

Melyssa Barrett:  Wait, you went to the White House?

Kennetha Stevens:  So, I was invited to the White House. I have to show you my picture. So, cute. This was at least seven years ago. Maybe, five. Between maybe five to seven years ago. I was at work with our Parent Advisory Committee. I was actually leading the work and working for our local school district, at the time. We had just done some work about making sure that when our PD have contact with our students, making sure that it is quality contact, and it’s not contact that will hinder our students in any way, putting their names in the system. So working with parents, I got invited to the White House myself. Our police chief, at the time, went with me. Then, our director of CWA also went with me. So, we went down to the White House. We did some training. We met staff. It was an amazing opportunity to really share what was happening locally, here in Stockton.

Melyssa Barrett:  Nice. Wow. That’s exciting. I didn’t know that. So, that’s pretty cool. So, tell me a little bit about, I mean, there always seems to be some sort of drama at a school, which was sad to say. I was listening to somebody. They were talking about how it’s almost more dangerous to go to a school than to go somewhere else. I mean, it’s strange to me. So, when you talk about changing policies, what kind of policies are we talking about? What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen and some of the changes that have been made within those policies? Can you talk a little bit about those?

Kennetha Stevens:  Yeah. So, I can think about just organizing parents on the south side. We had a school that was historically low performing for over 20 years. So, that meant if your grandmother went to that school, it was low performing. Great-grandmother went to that school, it was low performing. Your mom went to that school, it was low performing. So, historically it had just been low performing.

But, it’s also about first educating our community about systems that are in place that actually don’t work for our communities. Then, understanding like, “What is the barriers behind that? Knowing what policy says about the barrier, and then how do we both align a success plan, a better policy, and also funding to support the system.”

So, those are the things that I would teach parents and also community members, clergy as well. I work a lot with pastors here, in Stockton, teaching them the model that goes into making a policy. Then, the model that goes into changing that model, as well.

Then, it’s also about creating relationships with people. When you have conversations with the secretary, the secretary will tell you things that the CEO won’t say. Right? But, it’s about, also, a process of having conversations with the secretary, having conversations with teachers, having conversations with principals. Then, understanding those things that are negotiable on both sides. So, with changing policy, what’s negotiable, what can be changed? Then, understanding like, “What are their negotiables, too?” Right? Because with education, we also have our unions, we have our parent advisory committees. There’s a lot of components that go into changing a policy. It’s not just a piece of paper with words, but it is a meeting of minds, coming to the tables, and having conversation about what works. Then, “How do we build a system that will work for everyone that’s sitting at the table?”

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, that’s really pretty cool. I mean, you talk about your life’s mission, bridging the gap between schools, families, and community. I think a lot of people who sit on the school board don’t necessarily think about their mission that way. So, you bring this kind of different lens. I know you’ve worked with a lot of, shall we call them challenges, specifically for African American students, that in some cases are targeted, or discriminated against, or kind of taken through it for whatever reason. You’ve been able to kind of navigate through the systems that haven’t been working and be an advocate for people, whether you’re talking to a principal, or a pastor, or whomever. Are there better ways for us to bridge the gap?

Kennetha Stevens:  I would say there’s lots of ways. Right? Because a lot of the barriers that we have, they didn’t happen overnight. So, it means that the process of removing the barriers, they don’t always happen overnight. I’m was just thinking about this the other day, too. I was thinking about a new way of, “How do I win victories?” I was thinking about, “What are the low hanging things, the things that are just visible wins that I can also begin to go after?”

One of the things that I know, within the African American community, we need to see victory. Not just hear about it, not secondhand information, not reading about it in the newspaper, but we need to see it. It must be a tangible part of the conversations that we have. Then, also, our lived experiences. So, navigating that is a lot just for us, ourselves.

I do co-chair, our Black Students Thrive committee. It’s a lot. Not only do I have to hear from the parents, I hear from the students, I hear from the staff, I hear from people who don’t want the things that we want also. So, there’s a lot, but it does take a lot of conversations, a lot of courageous conversations. It’s not I, it’s not me. I hear from the community.

I sit in a lot of different spaces to better understand my own thinking about my lens, my shared experiences, and then also my lived experiences, to hear what’s happening in other communities. How would a policy affect the south side versus the north side of Stockton? Sometimes the policy doesn’t affect the north side of Stockton, but it is a piece that will sustain and make a better community for the south side.

I have to have conversations across the board because every policy that I implement, it will affect someone in some way. Then, if the policy doesn’t affect you, how do you become an ally? How do you raise the banner with us to say that this is going to work and you support the system, and the policy that’ll come into fruition?

So, it’s a lot. I wouldn’t say that it’s me. It’s heavy conversations. I connect with a lot of groups. I sit on a lot of boards, as well, to do a lot of work. Sometimes things don’t align the right way, and we have to go back to the drawing board and create a system that will challenge people. Change, it’s hard for them to deal with when you’ve had the status quo for so long. You also have to change the hearts and the minds of the people to lead the work. So, it’s a lot of work. It’s not I, but it is a community of support that wants better for everyone.

Melyssa Barrett:

Yeah. And, I’m going to give a shout-out to Gail Burgos because she is one of the people that talks a lot about the head, the heart, and the hands. It’s amazing to me when you actually see people that have invoked all of those items for the betterment of our community. You really do see the leadership and the change that it’s transformed. So, I love how you say that because it’s so true.

I mean, let me just go back a second. You talked about all this stuff that you were doing. Now, you’re an entrepreneur. You were a single parent. How old is your daughter, now?

Kennetha Stevens:  25.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, think she’s grown now, but how did you do all this as a single parent? Because even volunteering for school, even in a dual income household can be challenging. It’s like you were there, and I know people struggle to figure out how to get there. How did you do all this?

Kennetha Stevens:  I do this stuff because of what faith calls me to do. Right? Part of my gift is to teach. That is my gift. My spiritual gift is to teach. I lead from that particular point. So, I don’t get off into the weeds with a lot of different things. I let the experts do what the experts do. I’m really smart about that. I don’t want to push myself into areas where I know that I am not successful. I want to learn the knowledge, but I don’t necessarily want to do the work. I’m never going to start a podcast, Melyssa. If there’s ever the opportunity for me to connect with kids and parents and have conversations, you’re the expert around that. So, I align myself with people who do the work, who know how to do the work. So, that means that I can stand firm in the things that I know how to stand firm in, which is networking, teaching, inspiring, and collaborating, researching policy, looking at data, and aligning all that together.

Those are the things that I am good at, but I know how to connect with people who can do the work. As a single mom, I really prayed and worked for a job. I was like, “I need to be with my daughter.” I left my career in insurance to start organizing here, to have these conversations, to go to school board meetings, to do all this work in her school, go about organizing for safe routes to school, remove bus stops because they were unsafe for our kids because of violence that was happening near and around the school. That opened up the door for me to be able to volunteer and to have these conversations. Then, also, to understand my time.

As a single mom, I knew, “Okay. I have to work. I have to take care of my daughter, but I also can’t burden myself with giving of myself to other things opposed to giving of my household.” So, I always give to my household first. Nothing comes before my own household, and then everything else is secondary. So, giving to my daughter first, and then I give to everything else secondarily, but not first. First, I belong to my family, I belong to me. That’s how I did the work as a parent, someone working, someone showing up to meetings, sitting on boards. I did night walks with clergy, but I did it always in alignment with, first, what God called me to do, and then second what I had extra energy to do.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome.

Kennetha Stevens:  Oh, I’ll say this, too. Yeah. I want to say this, too, Melyssa. Also, some things I actually put off until my daughter was a certain age, or until I could do X, Y, and Z. So, I didn’t do everything at one time. I did it in increments. Being successful in a place. Going back, thinking about, “How do I become better? What was my journey through this process?” Then, also, my goal for the year is always to do better than what I did the previous year before, and I model myself in that. So, once you hit a goal, “Okay. How do I do better? How do I not have a deficit mindset, but how do I reinvigorate myself to be better and to do more? Also, to give to my home, first, before I give to anyone else?”

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s phenomenal. Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back.

Now, let’s talk about all these books that just have come pouring out of you. Y’all, I went to a workshop, and she pulled out books and books and books of stuff. I was like, “I want one of each.” So, talk a little bit about how you began to, all of a sudden, start writing these things. They’re not only great, but they’re beautiful. So, makes you want to write and want to learn because you’ve made them so nice, just to be able to absorb and really kind of channel your inner self, I think I would say. So, how do you start that journey, and how do you go from one book to the next?

Kennetha Stevens:  Wow. Great question. So, to be honest, every book was written for a stage of my life, which is kind of odd. So, I write poetry. I write a lot. I take time to write. Learning about myself and not wanting to put it on pen and paper. Actually, the first book, the journey that I was supposed to write, I haven’t finished it, yet. Giving of yourself, it does take a lot. To put your thoughts on a piece of paper, and to be vulnerable, and to be transparent, and open with people, it does take a lot. You have to really be thoughtful about putting your lived experience out there. So, the first book that I thought about, it was supposed to be a mommy and me journey, to help mothers really have amazing relationships with their kids.

I have this beautiful relationship with my daughter. Most people say like, “Oh, you and your daughter, you’re best friends.” I’m like, “No. My daughter doesn’t even like me like that.” We have a beautiful relationship, but we’re not friends. I’m always mom to her. I’m always like that. I’m that tough mom. I’m always the voice of reason. I’m always a mom that’s pushing, that’s supporting. Then, also, I’m the cool mom to the friends, or friends want to see me and hang out, and all of that good stuff. So, the first book I wanted to create, I haven’t been able to finish it. I did start it, but it’s not here.

So, the first book that I actually finished was Budget Like a Boss, the Black Girl Edition. That was really about learning. After purchasing my home, learning about my finances and how I invest my money, and making sure that I don’t live paycheck to paycheck. Having this checks and balances in my mind about what money means to me and being able to live a comfortable life. One of the things I understood as a single mom, data shows that we’re not supposed to be successful. We’re not supposed to be business owners. We’re not supposed to have high quality children. Children who are thriving in education and who are the cream of the crop and who are the standout students. Data really speaks against all of those things when it comes to being a single parent.

So, when I think about the books that I wrote, it’s really about the journeys that I’ve taken. I wrote the first book about buying my home and understanding money and investment, and what I have and what I don’t. My needs versus my wants. Just because I have money in the bank, doesn’t mean that I should spend it, as well. Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  That part.

Kennetha Stevens:  Yeah. So, being knowledgeable about the nos that we should have in our life. Just because you can afford the purse and the shoes, doesn’t always mean you should spend the money because we have to think about the rainy day. Or, what does it look like when my daughter needs a $450 college textbook? Can I just go and say, “Hey, okay. Just transfer the money and you buy the book.” We want to create systems where we can do that, when your kid has a need, and when the car breaks down and you are on a road, and there’s a flat tire. Believe me, these are things that I’ve gone through. Right? In the Starbucks driveway, and now my car is on whack. Uh-huh.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kennetha Stevens:  And, just being frantic in the moment. But as a woman, also being able to show up for myself and say, “I can pay for a flat tire. I can buy the college textbook. I can do those things.” So, Budget Like a Boss came out of that. I didn’t write that book until years later. Running my campaign, I finished Budget Like a Boss. I wrote Dear God, It’s Me dealing with a journey with whether, or not, I had breast cancer. I wrote that book, and I share that story all the time with women about celebrating yourself, but celebrating yourself also means checking up on your health. It also means when something doesn’t feel right, that you show up to the doctor. It also means self-care. It means having affirmations that will get you out of the bed in the morning when days are tough, when being a mom is hard, when life is not for you. You feel like it is totally against you. How do you yet take another step when you are facing so many tough issues in life?

So, every book that I wrote was actually a testament to some area in my life that I had to deal with. I had to tell myself, “Kennetha, you have to go, even when you don’t feel like it. Put your clothes on, fix your hair, fix your face. Tell God, ‘Thank you,’ and walk out the door.” So, every one of my journals and planners are really a testament about that, and the testament about thinking about the experiences that we have and how do we not become a victim to everything that we go through.

That is the reason that I wrote every single book. I also make sure that they’re reflective to who we are as a African American community. I show fathers, I show fathers and their children, I show us as being whole and healed and healthy. Actually, that is my next journal that I just dropped. Happy, Healed, and Healthy.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Kennetha Stevens:  Those are the things we are. Yeah. Right, Melyssa? That is who we are. Those are the affirmations of the household that I came out of, and those are the people that I sit next to. Those are the women that I work with. Those are the fathers that I work with. We’re powered up in our parenting. We want great things for our kids. I just want to drop the nuggets that I know that have been successful, to really outline those opportunities that we have in our community, for our families and our parents, and for our kiddos to be successful.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. I love it. That’s awesome. I can’t wait for the next one. I’m ready.

Kennetha Stevens:  Ready to drop in, Melyssa. It should be here by next week, so I’m excited.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, awesome.

Kennetha Stevens:  Yeah. I’m excited. Got to.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay. Hot off the press.

Kennetha Stevens:  You know. I’ll give you one free, Melyssa, I’ll drop it off at your door.

Melyssa Barrett:  No. I’m paying for mine because I got to support my people. I’m all about a jama.

Kennetha Stevens:  That is very true. That is very true. And, you have been so supportive. You almost have every book that I have. I didn’t bring everything with me. So, I tried to bring a representation of what I think would really speak to our community-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kennetha Stevens:  … at the time. So, yeah. So, just dropping books and opportunities for a community that looks like me, they have the same issues, the values. I just want to make sure that we can be the best that we can be-

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome.

Kennetha Stevens:  … in every area. In all of my education, I might be jumping a gun, but let’s see. You might have this question for me, but.

Melyssa Barrett:  No, no. Go ahead.

Kennetha Stevens:  My parent workbooks and planners, they also have trainings that go along with them. So, I do teach positive parenting, how to have effective parent/teacher conferences, creating an agenda for your kid, an academic success plan. How do we create opportunities for learning environments for our kids? So, I couple my readings with learning opportunities, as well, for our community.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. Well, and do you want to share a nugget, or two? How do we have better parent/teacher conferences? I mean, is there anything you want to share?

Kennetha Stevens:  So, I can talk all a minute when it comes to family engagement, Melyssa. I would say, yeah. The first thing is building a relationship. You knowing the teacher and the teacher knowing you. The second thing that I would say, is make sure that you provide your student’s teachers with your preferred method of communication. If you don’t like emails, say that to the teacher. Say you would prefer to talk in text, if you would prefer phone calls. Send a nice letter at the opening of school, describing who you are as a family, how the teacher can get in contact with you. In that letter, in that email, also ask the teacher what is their preferred method of communication? So, you all could first align around communication. If there’s something that the teacher needs to know, he or she, they know how to get in contact with you.

I would also say ask the teacher about supports, ask parents. We don’t know it all, but there’s technology that can help bridge the gap between home and school. Ask a teacher about those opportunities, and then look at data for the schools. Select a school. Your children don’t have to just attend your neighborhood school, but look for high performing schools. You can build relationships, and you can have a system that will support your kids doing their best in elementary and middle school, junior high, and also into high school. Then, often to college.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. That’s awesome. Now, you currently are sitting as an Area VII board of trustee for the Stockton Unified School District. I know we have had, well, I don’t live specifically in Stockton. I know that we have challenges in schools with making sure that we create the type of environment that our kids can feel safe in and get the education that they really require. Is there anything, or maybe I’ll ask it this way, what kind of advice would you give for other school board members, or other schools all over the country, in terms of what they could do to provide a better environment, whether it be policy, or facility, or curriculum, or whatever, for students?

Kennetha Stevens:  Yes. That’s a heavy question, Melyssa. There’s a lot happening in education, now, especially around safety, gun violence, mass shootings that are happening, many campus across the country. We’ve seen it. It’s been televised. I do chair our safety committee. Our safety committee is made up of myself, two other board trustees, our superintendent. We have our own police department at Stockton Unified. So, our chief of police is there, as well. We have our director of safety who implements the systems, whether it is the gates that can buzz parents in and out. We have a kiosk check-in system. When parents come over to the school, we run their name in a database to make sure that they are qualified to be on our campuses. So, there is a lot. I can speak to what we are doing locally.

So, we just passed our board agenda item to get safety systems in front of every single school, which means that parents will have to buzz in and out of our gates, over at our school sites. It’s something that has to happen. Parents do feel safe with having to buzz in and out of the campus, opposed to just having the open campus where anyone can just walk in. We’re updating our camera systems. Some of our schools are built extremely long ago, so we don’t have cameras down some of our corridors at our school sites. So, we’re implementing camera systems for all of our school sites.

We have our kiosk, where we are checking in parents. I utilize the kiosk at one of my schools. When I even get close to the school, it begins a process for me, checking me in, so when I get to the school, they already know who I am. My name has already been run through to say that I’m okay to be at the campus. It also has a camera system where it can see me. My ID has already been verified and scanned. That happens the first time that you show up to the school. They take your ID and they scan it, run it through the system. Then once I get to the school, it does check me into the school. Then when I’m leaving the school site, it also checks me out of the school. So, it does have a geo-filter surrounding the school, too, so that when I’m on the campus, school is aware that I’m actually there.

We’re also implementing our Talk to Me. Anonymously, if a student believes that there’s a concern, they believe a student has a knife or a gun, or there’s going to be violence or a mass shooting, our students can get on their cell phone, and they can send a message to Let’s talk. Let’s talk will automatically go to our superintendent, who does answer all questions herself. It goes to her. So, we’re able to thwart a lot of things that can happen at our school site.

I would say for parents, show up to your safety committee [inaudible 00:34:03]. Meetings have conversations about your school site, what’s happening, what are the safety concerns that you have, and then what is the district doing to remedy a lot of the issues that you believe that’s happening in campuses. We’ve had concerns with kids like vaping in bathrooms, cutting down on that. If a student feels that they’re unsafe, students will say something. Then as parents, as you know information, and if you see something, say something to us. Don’t be afraid. In our district, you can send an anonymous concern to our superintendent. You can let a staff member know. There’s a lot that’s happening in our school site.

We are hiring more cops in our district. We understand that our police, that they’re there to protect and serve. So, making sure that our students are having contact with the contact that’s of support, not contact with police that will hinder them, that will give them citations, put them in the criminal justice system, but creating systems that support. So, if our students have something, making sure that there is a adult on the campus that they feel safe and that they feel supported with. So, those are some of the things that we’re doing at Stockton Unified. All of our subcommittee meetings are open to families, to community members. You can come in, and you can have those high quality conversations about safety that you believe will support not just your campus, but all campuses across our district.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. I love it. I know there’s this kind of back and forth debate over, “How much police presence do we need on campus?” Obviously, we don’t want it to look like a military zone, but you do want to make sure that your kids are protected. I know, unfortunately, we have to be really concerned about what’s happening, and who is on campus. Sometimes it’s the very students that are being taught there, so it can be challenging. So, let me ask you the last question because I know African Americans are near and dear to your heart. There’s so many challenges, I think, that sometimes we feel very targeted, I’ll say. It’s like the rules are a certain way, and then people make up different rules, sometimes. When it comes to people of color, all of a sudden it’s like, “Well, we’re not doing that.” So, are there ways that you think people can get the type of justice that they need when, maybe, they are being unfairly treated?

Kennetha Stevens:  Yeah. So, we have lots of systems in place. If a parent, or a student, ever believed that they’re being discriminated against, we have what’s called our Uniform Complaint Policy. Our families can either pick up a form at their local school site, they can get it from the front office, they can call the district, they can come to the district. We can email them a form. They can reach out to any of their school board members, and get the form and fill out. It does open up a full investigation around the concern, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s students not receiving textbooks in the classroom, the services that parents told that are happening with them.

There is a Uniform Complaint Policy. You can always come to the board. You can sit on any subcommittee that we have in the district to talk about the concerns that you have. We also have our LCAP. It takes community opinions and creates a plan, not just with actions, but also with our funding. We do that several times a year. We open it up to all of our families, all of our community members, to come in and say the things that they believe will be supportive for the district. We have our Parent Advisory Committees. We have our African American Parent Advisory Committee, our District Parent Advisory Committee, our ELACs, our DLACs, our Special Ed. So, we have a ton of parent advisory committees, where parents can come in and they can work on things that they believe that are not supportive, or conducive, to a high quality education for their students.

At Stockton Unified, we have a lot of open doors to have conversations. We just hired a new superintendent who understands what it takes to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction. We’ll be looking at doing an equity audit. We also have our Black Students Thrive subcommittee, that I also chair. We have our youth event coming up. We have A Dinner, A Data just for our African American youth, on November 3rd, 5:30 to 7:30 at the Amelia Adams Whole Life Center, where students will be able to voice their concerns about what’s working at school sites, how do we create opportunities for them? We’ll be sharing data, and we’ll also discuss the things that are working for schools. We do have data that shows that there’s a lot of good things happening. We understand that there are some things that we have to work on. I think with all of the opportunities that we’re providing our community, we’re saying that we are here to make change for our community. So, a lot of great things that are working.

I’m also accessible. I’m at a ton of meetings, events. I’m always in the community. I sit on other boards, as well, to make sure that there’s representation and collaboration for the community that looks like me. My information is public, as well. I’m on social media, too. So, if there’s concerns, or families just want to talk, if you want to look at the future of education, I would say, “Let’s do that.”

We have a lot of open doors. We are also challenging a lot of things that are happening, the barriers that were put in place. So, we’re removing a lot of the barriers. We’re having those conversations around policy that does not work for our students.

A lot of great work. It happens at our subcommittee meetings. We have, I think around 16 subcommittees, something like that, for parents to come and connect with, everything from education to safety. We have a Budget Committee. We had a Superintendent Committee when we were looking at hiring our new superintendent. We did have parents who sat on the interview process, parents who were a part of the process just to make sure that we had a superintendent who would understand both the barriers and successes of the African American community.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Well, and I know you have your own consulting company, as well. Can you talk a little bit about what your consulting company does?

Kennetha Stevens:  Yeah. So, I specialize in family engagement work. One of the things that I really want to lift up is fathers being engaged in education. Fathers are an untapped resource. I spent 10 years working in education doing family engagement work. I can say the most diversity that I’ve ever seen come out of family engagement work has been with our fathers. Fathers want to be a part of the process. I do non-traditional work with our fathers. I do hands-on STEM opportunities, where fathers come with their children and they learn in a way that’s not traditional. Not sitting across and listening to someone talk to you about something, but actually creating and having take home activities that they can then do with their kids. So, we build rain houses, edible water. That’s probably one of the things I always talk about is the edible water, having fathers create ice cream with their kids.

Having hands-on opportunities for our kids. So, I create strategic plans for school sites and districts to engage parents on a level that’s going to be supportive, not just of the school, but also of the holistic approach to the child. So, making sure our parents’ opportunity. They have collaboration, they have network, and then they come into the school knowing about Common Core, knowing about LCAP, having a system and a plan for their students to be successful in school.

So, I also work with clergy as well, about training their parents how to engage, how to have effective parent/teacher conferences, and always going in with an agenda and a plan for success. So, those are some of the things that I do for school districts and also for parents and teachers.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love it. Exceptional Journey Consulting is who she is. I have been spending this wonderful time with Kennetha Stevens, and I just cannot thank you enough for being here. You are just a wealth of information. I feel like we barely scratched the surface, so you might have to come back, and we go a little bit deeper. But, thank you so much for being here. I just really appreciate you and your friendship, and look forward to all of the transformational things you all are doing in Stockton and with Stockton Unified, specifically. So, thank you so much for the work that you’re doing in the world.

Kennetha Stevens:  All right. Thank you so much, Melyssa. It’s great talking to you and just sharing the great things that are happening because Stockton does get a bad rap. Right? A lot of powerful things coming out of Stockton. So, I’m excited. Your podcast, too, just reflecting kind of the diversity, not just in Tracy and Manteca, but also in Stockton. So, we’re happy for your opportunity to create, too.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thank you so much.

Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.