Can Achievement Gap be Closed with SRO Funding?

For decades, area schools have been battling an achievement gap problem.

At Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board meeting, some said the 2015-16 budget should put more money into narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students – for example between white and black students.

Greg McElveen, chair of the NAACP Education Committee, spoke during public comment periods to suggest ways the district could reallocate funds to help students who lag in academic performance. He said the board should look at how the district funds school resource officers (SROs).

“We believe that given these tight times . . . perhaps we don’t need SROs in middle school,” said McElveen.

He said violence is rare in area middle schools, and rather than increasing payments for SRO services by $100,000 as proposed, the district could find other ways to ensure the safety of students.

School officials will look at data on how SROs are used in middle schools and whether SROs need to be in school buildings all day.

Board member Michelle Brownstein expressed concern about removing SROs from schools.

“We have set up what we’re doing now, in terms of crisis management, with them being there,” said Brownstein. “So if they’re not there, we have to make sure our principals, our admin and our teachers have what they need” to keep students safe.

According to Board Chair Mike Kelley, only half of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro schools have SROs.

School officials said the district is using strategies from Max Thompson, project director of Learning-Focused, to help increase student achievement.

Along with other specific requests, McElveen said the board should study initiatives that have been effective at supporting under-served students, such as supplemental math instruction. Then the district should implement those effective programs widely.

You can view the superintendent’s recommended budget here.

Upcoming budget calendar dates from CHCCS:

April 16    – Budget discussion and approval of budget to be submitted to the county
April 20    – Submit Board’s budget request to the county
April 28    – Joint meeting of school boards for budget presentations to the county

Parents Call On CHCCS Board To Change Student Discipline Policies

CHAPEL HILL- Parents, students and concerned community members are calling on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board to change discipline and suspension policies that they say unfairly target African-American and Latino students.

Karen Reid is a retired teacher from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district. She was one of twenty speakers on Thursday who asked the school board to re-assess discipline policies, specifically with regard to how school resource officers handle incidents with students.

“They need training on child development. They are doing their job, they are arresting our children, and our children have to pay for it,” said Reid. “It’s just not a good start for them in their lives. This school system is better than that.”

Reid and others argued that school resource officers are too often called upon to handle minor incidents in schools, resulting in the criminalization of non-violent behavior.

James Williams is a public defender in Orange and Chatham Counties. He said the discipline and suspension policies are unfairly applied to minority students, setting many on a pathway to failure.

“Discipline inequity is a denial of equal educational opportunity for children of color,” said Williams. “When you look at the data its clear that there’s significant racial disparity in how school discipline issues are handled in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

According to data collected by school officials, African-American and Latino students each make up about 12 percent of the student body, but account for a majority of in-school suspensions.

“Forty percent of all students who received in-school suspensions in our district were African-American students, 21 percent Latino students and 31 percent white students,” Dr. Rodney Trice told the board.

School board members including James Barrett acknowledged that racial disparity in discipline is a long-standing problem, one the board is committed to addressing.

“We like to think of ourselves as a very enlightened community but this is an area that we’ve struggled with for a long time,” said Barrett. “It’s an area that we’re obviously not proud of, but does exist. This conversation shows that we’re not sweeping it under the rug and we’re committed to making a difference here.”

School officials said one solution may be to clarify the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers, and to track which cases are referred to the criminal justice system. Greg McElveen said officers are called in to handle situations that would be better managed by administrators.

“When you talk about a recommended partnership between police and courts and schools, that partnership will include very specific restrictions on what school resource officers can do,” said McElveen.

School resource officers are  law enforcement personnel from the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Police Department who are assigned to the district’s middle and high schools. Both Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and newly appointed Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton were on hand to listen to the discussion, but neither commented to the board.

Other solutions include additional training for teachers and school resource officers, publishing data on suspensions on a quarterly basis and assigning school work groups to review student discipline outcomes.

No decisions were made at Thursday’s meeting, but administrators will begin reviewing discipline and suspension protocols throughout the district.