CircleUp Education collaborates with the FUSD to promote restorative justice

After trials in pilot schools during the 2016- 17 school year, FUSD entered into an agreement with CircleUp Education for Professional Development to continue its staff training at the pilot schools —including Irvington— and expanded to Vallejo Mill Elementary School and Thornton Junior High School this school year. CircleUp Education, unlike the other more distant organizations, was chosen for being simply closer to home —co-founders Tyrone Botelho and Tiffany Hoang, who both personally lead training sessions, are Kennedy High School and James Logan High School alumni, respectively.

At its training sessions, implemented in staff meetings, the CircleUp founders engage the staff in educational and bonding activities to deepen staff relationships and promote a healthier community, as well as reinforce concepts such as implicit bias and microaggression in its Diversity Training sessions. CircleUp claims to be well-known for its Diversity Training activities, including one in which staff members received or lost money based on privilege. CircleUp, which claims to have a 97 percent overall satisfaction, also does extensive data analysis through outcome surveys of given months after a training or surveys given to participants in the training themselves.

“The City of Oakland asked us to design a training for them, and we modified and adjusted the training within the first year 127 times, based on their evaluations,” CircleUp co-founder Tyrone Botelho said. “We went back and changed it and kept perfecting it, and I think that that has to do with our commitment to provide the best services for our clients. Because of that, we really polish and refine all our products and our training.”

Aside from training sessions and general data analysis, CircleUp works in focus groups with “teacher leaders” and administration on a regular basis to understand specific events occurring on campus.

The district’s LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) Professional Development allocated a total of $151,944.64 towards CircleUp, whose reach extends to K-12 schools across the Bay Area, higher education, and city governments, including the City of Fremont. As part of the district’s LCAP Goal 4, Action 1 to develop a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students, FUSD considered collaborating with various professional development programs to promote restorative justice. School districts in California employ an annually updated LCAP, a three-year district-level plan, as a planning tool to achieve agreed-upon goals.

When CircleUp first worked with Irvington, every staff member completed a 70-question climate survey that asked “to reflect on the relationships they have with their fellow staff and students and on diversity and equity”, as well as questions regarding conflict resolution.

According to a confidential study conducted by English teacher Chandra Friend, African Americans, Hispanics, and students in the Special Ed Program are in the RC, Sunday School, or in-house suspension more often than other ethnic groups. To address this issue, the district began inviting volunteers from a Philadelphia organization two years ago to implement restorative justice, an alternative to traditional methods of discipline that shifts the focus from discipline to learning, at FUSD schools.

“Irvington, in terms of the discipline policy here, is not equitable,” Photo teacher Shiloh Burton, who works with FUSD to promote restorative justice, said. Certain kids are always getting in trouble and certain kids are never getting in trouble, even though kids are doing similar things. It goes back to all the “-isms” that are part of our society. I know that restorative justice actually works to improve people’s attendance and sense of community at their school.”

Amidst the district’s search for a suitable professional development program, Burton, impressed by a five-day community training program held by CircleUp Education, pitched the organization as the ideal candidate during a district meeting.

CircleUp Education will be hosting a restorative justice training at Irvington on two weekends during April, and is considering inviting interested students.

“What training teachers get depends on where they get their credentialing,” Burton said. “I learned a lot from the training in terms of watching other people examine their subconscious minds and unconscious bias. What CircleUp is talking about is not new, but what I appreciate is that they take everyone this journey, so no matter how much you know or don’t know, you can always learn more.”