Alachua County Schools tackling achievement gap with equity plan
Alachua County is struggling with a widening achievement gap between black and white students.
Addressing the issue of racial inequity is a big task and it one that's been given to Valerie Freeman -- the first ever equity director for Alachua County Public Schools.
This summer Freeman is working on an equity plan aimed at closing an achievement gap that has become the widest in the state.
“ We have to have a forum and educational system that every single student in Alachua county deserves," Freeman said.
On the east side of Gainesville, teachers like Darrius Demps know all about low performance among black students.
“Our kids come in a little less prepared and a little less on grade level than the other kids," Demps said.
Demps said at East Side High many of his students are battling with outside challenges on top of trying to keep up academically.
“People like to say my kids are bad, but I don’t think my kids are necessarily bad I think they just have challenges outside of the school that they bring to the school," Demps said.
Many east side schools are title one schools, meaning a high percentage of its students come from low income families. Those income disparities can affect school performance.
While some say part of the problem is that schools on the east side aren't getting enough resources, school board member April Griffin said east side schools are receiving just as much and sometimes more money than other schools.
“We’re putting a lot of resources into the east side schools. If you look at the per pupil spending for the east side schools its more than the other schools," Griffin said.
However the problem is deeper than just money -- school board candidate Tina Certain said its also about the way students see the schools on the east side and how that impacts their learning environment.
"Most think that they’ve just been left to fall in disrepair and that disrepair then leads into a sort of blight in the neighborhood. If they’re not in surroundings that are bright and cheery and conducive to learning, then that may produce a child that is unmotivated," Certain said.
Freeman understands these challenges and part of her equity plan includes providing resources like meal programs, supplemental reading materials for title one schools and mentoring programs for high needs students.
“We need mentors in our schools and we’re not talking about mentors that have to have a post-secondary education. That’s irrelevant. We need relationship builders," Freeman said.
Parents like Sunshine Moss believe closing the achievement gap will take more than just an equity plan from the school board -- it also requires community involvement.
“I think the communities that have been able to close that gap are where the pressure comes from outside the schools," Moss said. "Its not just the school board's responsibility, but its our responsibility to create an external pressure.”
Putting the pieces together to close the achievement gap is a process that will take time and a lot of work, but Freeman says her job isn't done until every child gets the education they deserve.