With elementary school-level dual-language offerings and some of the highest SAT scores in the state, it’s no surprise that Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is at the top of North Carolina school district rankings.
However, not all students get the benefits of the district’s “legacy of success” lauded on the school district’s website.
Research from Stanford’s Center for Education and Policy Analysis shows that, of the schools surveyed, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has the second-largest achievement gap between white and black students. The district also has the fifth largest identified achievement gap between white and Hispanic students.
Last week, CHCCS and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation received a $4.3 million dollar grant from the Oak Foundation to fund initiatives to improve equity, including racial equity training for staff.
Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education and the district’s administration pointed to various solutions: recruiting and retaining teachers of color, culturally-relevant curriculum materials, restorative justice and student input.
Jeffrey Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said the school district examines equity in the four categories laid out in the strategic plan: family and community engagement, student success, employee experience and organizational effectiveness.
“I think in our district we’re really focusing too on the fact that equity and equality are not the same thing,” he said. “Equity is giving everybody what they need, and it’s not taking from some to give to others.”
Nash said he and the superintendent are going to each school to meet with a student focus group — these focus groups, similar to those conducted before the strategic plan was put in place, are meant to help district administration evaluate how the plan is working.
Joal Broun, chairperson of the CHCCS board, said the Board collects data including student test scores, participation in Advanced Placement courses and Advancement Via Individual Determination programs and student discipline outcomes.
“We talk about it a lot,” she said. “We ask the superintendent what they’re implementing on the ground — a lot of it has to do with the instructional piece, about what is being taught, how it’s being taught in the classroom.”
As part of the classroom experience, she said, the school district is looking to hire a more diverse teaching population. Broun said the district has partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, such as North Carolina Central University, to place university students in teaching assistant positions.
“We’re just trying to raise the level and quality of teaching all throughout the district,” she said.
Beyond the classroom, CHCCS board member James Barrett said the school district has focused on providing training in restorative justice practices so that discipline isn’t used as a punishment but rather as a learning opportunity for students.
“We’ve had a lot of focus recently on discipline disparities, and that includes making sure we’re rewriting our code of conduct so that it has very clear expectations,” he said.
Barrett and Broun noted that equity concerns drive decisions that impact students in other, subtler ways — school rezoning is a prime example. Broun said the Board considers school rezoning demographically, socially and economically to preserve equity in the process.
“We would never claim that we could have successful schools unless we’re being successful for all students, so if we don’t look to racial impact in what we’re doing, then we’re not going to have successful actions,” Barrett said.
Nash said equity permeates the school district’s decision-making process at many levels, from communication with parents to teacher retention, and more.
“Look at our budget — how are we spending our money? Is it equitable? Does it reflect what we believe or what we claim to believe about equity?” he said.
He said when school districts start off with the question of what students need to be successful, they can then understand the implications of inequity in all parts of school administration, from curriculum to employee engagement.
“Equity is, if we like to say, it’s not something we add to our work,” Nash said. “It is the work.”
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