Kindergarten Readiness Program Aims to Close Achievement Gap

A local program is helping low-income and at-risk children prepare for kindergarten.

66 children from low-income families or that were identified as needing additional support participated in a summer kindergarten readiness program from the Family Success Alliance to prepare those students for the start of kindergarten.

Dr. Michael Steiner is a pediatrician at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital and serves as an adviser to the Family Success Alliance. He says data shows significant improvements in the assessment scores of children who participated in the first year of this program.

“This program is currently the entry point into this long pipeline,” Steiner says. “We promise to continue developing programs that will build the pipeline, strengthen partnerships and make resources available to children and their families as they successfully move through their school years with early college and early career being the end goal of our work.”

Sheldon Lanier is the Director of Equity Leadership in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District, and he says students showed major growth in the short summer program.

“Overall, the students that were enrolled in the program moved from nine percent to 67 percent in terms of proficiency,” Lanier says. “When we’re talking about proficiency, we’re talking about leveling the playing field and having students ready to enter into kindergarten and actually, I don’t want to say compete, but basically be able to achieve on the same level as students who may have already gotten some of those resources.”

Lanier adds students at New Hope Elementary went from zero percent to 63 percent proficient, while students at Carrboro Elementary went from 33 to 61 percent proficient and participants at Frank Porter Graham showed the largest improvement from zero to 74 percent proficient.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Magda Parvey says programs like this will help close the achievement gap.

“The Kindergarten Readiness Program really aligns very nicely with the work we’re doing to help address the achievement gap,” Parvey says. “Specifically, in terms of pre-teaching and preparing students in advance of being in school. It aligns very much with our K-12 initiatives in terms of strategies that are evidence-based.

“We really appreciated the it-takes-a-village approach that the Family Success Alliance provided, and we were very honored to be a part of that.”

These three schools were chosen to participate because they are in the two zones selected in late 2014 by the Family Success Alliance to focus efforts during the first year of the program’s existence.

Amber Wilson is the Assistant Principal at New Hope Elementary Schools. She says she has seen first-hand the impact this program has had on preparing students for kindergarten. She says a major step to ensuring students are ready begins with reaching their parents.

“To start out our program at New Hope, we also brought parents in and did an informational session, which we felt was really beneficial,” Wilson says. “And, more importantly, at the end of our program we brought our parents back to celebrate the success that we had during the program.

Wilson says every parent with a child in the program attended the end-of-session banquet.

“It was so sweet. The kids were all dressed up in their little dresses and stuff. And they were so excited to share with everybody what they had learned. And they felt good about themselves.”

Wilson adds the student’s confidence and comfort level with the school experience carried over into the new school year.

Claudia Yerena is the mother of a student who went through the program this summer. She says she can see a difference in the preparedness level in her five-year-old son who just entered kindergarten and her seven-year-old.

“It’s a huge difference between them,” Yerena says. “My older boy was very scared and shy and refusing to go to school. It’s totally different with my second boy.

“He was so excited. He was ready to go. He has more confidence. He also started with more academic skills.”

Steiner says that funding will be crucial to continue this program, and the FSA in general, in the future. Funding has been set aside by the Orange County Commissioners. Steiner says the group will look to other funding sources to ensure the program continues.

Parvey says that getting the students prepared for the day they enter school greatly increases the chance to close the achievement gap and Lanier says teachers can push a classroom further if all students are on equal footing on the first day.

Forum Saturday Will Tackle Equity, Excellence At CHCCS

The “achievement gap” has been a major issue in our local schools for years, even decades. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is generally recognized as one of the very best in North Carolina (if not the best), but there’s a persistent disparity between rich and poor, and between whites and minorities, when it comes to test scores, graduation rates, and the other measures of academic performance. That disparity is wider in CHCCS schools than in many other districts. And there’s also a “gap” in discipline as well: students of color are more likely to be punished or suspended for infractions than their white peers, even when both commit the same offense.

Educators, administrators, staff, parents, and everyone else involved in the schools have long been concerned about those persistent “gaps.” But while the district has committed a great deal of resources and effort to tackling the problem, actual progress has been frustratingly minimal.

What are the next steps? How can our schools move toward equity and make real progress in closing the achievement and discipline gaps, while maintaining the excellent quality that the district is known for?

Members of the community are invited to a community forum on this topic Saturday, September 26, from 1-4 pm at Northside Elementary School. Co-sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Organizing Against Racism, the CHCCS Multicultural Student Achievement Network, and the CHCCS PTA Council, the forum is called “Achieving Equity and Excellence in Our Schools: Challenges and Opportunities.” Everyone’s invited to offer feedback, hear from others, and be a part of the ongoing effort.

Greg McElveen of the CH-C NAACP (a former school board member) and Wanda Hunter of Organizing Against Racism joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to discuss the forum and the larger issue.

CHCCS Candidates Debate Achievement Gap

CARRBORO- Two incumbents and two challengers are running for three open seats on the Chapel HiIl-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

At Wednesday’s forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, all candidates agreed closing the achievement gaps among students in the district should be the top priority in coming years.

James Barrett, who was elected to the board in 2011, said the failure to close those gaps undermines the district’s reputation for excellent schools.

“Public education has got to be for everybody, and if we’re not seeing all students achieve, that’s what the gap means,” said Barrett. “We’re not really serving all students.”

He stressed the growth mindset advocated by Superintendent Tom Forcella, designed to challenge assumptions about a student’s learning potential.

Michelle Brownstein serves as the current chair of the school board. She said the answer for many struggling students lies in literacy.

“Every child has to read well in order for them to be successful in society,” said Brownstein. “We owe that to them.”

Brownstein said the district needs to focus on consistent implementation of programs to make sure the administration’s educational policies are reflected in the classroom.

However, Ignacio Tzoumas argued that the district has been working for two decades to close the achievement gap, with little progress.

“We’ve had plenty of studies, we’ve had plenty of experts in the field, and hardly anything has changed,” said Tzoumas. “I think that personal interaction is what makes the biggest difference. I will push for as much personal interaction as possible.”

He pointed to the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program as an example of how one-on-one interaction can help change a student’s life for the better.

Andrew Davidson said he’d advocate for new technology to encourage student achievement.

“Some of the biggest challenges we face as a district, technology gives us the tools to overcome some of those challenges,” said Davidson. “I think the one-child-one-device initiative could revolutionize the way we reach especially our most under-advantaged students.”

He said he’d also like to see new technologies applied to student testing for more regular assessments instead of end-of-year exams.

You can find the full two-hour forum here.

The Orange-Durham-Chatham chapter of the League of Women Voters will also host a forum for Chapel Hill Town Council candidates at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15 at the Seymour Senior Center on Homestead Road.