Achievement gap conference hosted by CHCCS

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 08:34 AM

 A program being used in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to address the achievement gap was just one example of creative ways to address academic disparity discussed at a recent conference.
The Minority Student Achievement Network conference at Northside Elementary School last month brought together 21 school districts from across the country to examine their achievement gaps and figure out ways to eliminate it.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was among the network’s founding districts and has been touted as one of the coalition’s strongest districts, with a willingness to share what it’s learned along the way.
CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella said that it’s refreshing to share information and get feedback from those in similar situations.
“We all want to level the playing field,” Forcella said. “Our district is pleased to be in the company of such creative educational experts and we are honored that they would come to Chapel Hill-Carrboro to meet our team and see the kind of work being done in our schools.”
MSAN consists of 25 school districts from across the U.S. that are categorized as suburban-urban with student populations between 3,000 and 33,000 with a history of high academic achievement, resources that tend to exceed those of neighboring cities and connections to major research universities.
During the conference, there was a presentation on CHCCS’s Student 6, an initiative that allows a group of student volunteers to train their teachers in best practices for effectively teaching minority students.
Teresa Bunner, academic support specialist for Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program, said that Student 6 presents a very different perspective.
“Students feel comfortable and help the teachers feel open and comfortable,” Bunner explained. “The students like being empowered and feel like they have stories and experiences to share that’ll help them and their peers.”
“They can tell you more about effective teaching than some professionals,” added Graig Meyer, coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program.
The students undergo training prior to working with teachers from across the district. The number of teacher participants doubled from last year to 70. There are 20 student trainers and a master teacher cohort.
“They are very invested in this project,” Bunner said. “Two of our students were keynote speakers at national conferences on this program and schools within the district want them to facilitate their staff meetings
“They’re investing a lot of time and energy into this,” she added.
Still in its infancy, Bunner said that the district had to contact the National Urban Alliance to help develop the program because there was nothing comparable in existence.
Sue Zurvalec, superintendent of Farmington Public Schools in Farmington, Mich. was one of the school administrators visiting with the MSAN conference who was impressed by the program.
“It’s a meaningful and impactful strategy in assisting students of color achieve to their full potential,” Zurvalec said of Student 6.
Helping to eliminate equity gaps and help school employees use anti-racist techniques, Zurvalec said that all of the challenges that MSAN and minority students face start with long-held beliefs.
“The challenge we face is changing mind-sets,” she said. “Any significant change is working with adults who have their own preconceived beliefs. Once you recognize your own fundamental biases, it helps you see through a different lens. There’s a transformation process that individuals have to go through.”