In test scores and graduation rates, white students significantly outperform minorities.
“It hasn’t gotten any worse, but it hasn’t improved at the rate that we’d like to see that improve,” said district Superintendent Tom Forcella.
“When kids at the upper levels continue to grow so do a lot of our economically disadvantaged. Everyone is growing, but the gap isn’t closing.”
The CHCCS Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program — which aims to improve the achievement of African-American and Latino students — is one of many initiatives in the district working to close the gap, including two put in place in the last year.
But Salazar, who has been in the program since fourth grade, still sees evidence of the achievement gap at her school.
“You can really tell the difference between the honors classes and a regular class in racial make-up,” she said.
Her older sister, Itza Salazar, said she knows how easy it is for initiatives to fail to close the achievement gap.
“I always felt like there was always some kind of dead end to it. There was only so much they could do,” she said.
Itza Salazar graduated from East Chapel Hill High in May, but she said it was challenging at times to be a minority student.
“Since I was a little girl, there was always an expectation to fail, so I’ve always had to try harder to make a point and show that I’m not the typical person who’s going to fail and drop out,” she said.
And she didn’t drop out. Now a freshman at Wingate University, she is the first in her family to attend college.
Lorie Clark, high school specialist for the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program, said minority students and their families face more challenges in reaching graduation and entering college.
“I think they lack some opportunities for enrichment and personal growth,” she said. “They lack opportunities for college exposure, for service learning, for leadership development.”
The Blue Ribbon program, which serves about 155 students in grades four through 12, aims to make up for those potential missed opportunities.
The program offers help and advice that parents who have not attended college might not be able to provide.
Clark said part of the problem is the long history of the achievement gap in the district. Many parents and grandparents in the area experienced it themselves.
“There’s some mistrust,” she said. “The school district wasn’t very kind to them when they were in school. That stigma has perpetuated itself to some degree.”
Clark said parents often don’t know how to navigate the school district or are prevented from getting involved in their children’s education because of their work schedule.
But she thinks the district is heading in a new direction with the implementation of Parent University.
The program offers workshops to help families become informed and engaged advocates for their children.
“Once you become knowledgeable of what’s happening with your child, you become more knowledgeable of what’s happening at the school and in the district,” said Carla Smith, parent involvement specialist with the program.
In 2011, Parent University’s first year, 35 parents enrolled in and completed the program.
Karen Patillo was one of those parents. She has two sons in schools in the district: one at Estes Hills Elementary School who has ADHD and one at Smith Middle School who is academically gifted.
“With two minority students on two different spectrums, it is disheartening as a parent,” Patillo said. “I just think the district could be doing more.”
Many school officials interviewed also recognize the need for a new approach.
“We have all been working very hard to figure this out for a very long time,” said Mia Burroughs, chairwoman of the CHCCS Board of Education.
“At this point, our district is taking the approach of shifting some of the practices toward more effective instruction.”
The school system implemented the statewide common core this year for the first time.
But officials recognize it will take time before any improvement is noticeable.
“I think it’s important to realize that there’s no magic bullet,” said Jeffrey Nash, CHCCS spokesman.
“If there was, someone would’ve written a book about it and every district would be doing it.”
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