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.