Albemarle County School Board

Ben Allen (far right), assistant principal of Cale Elementary School, presents the 2019 Equity Report to the Albemarle County School Board during its retreat Friday.

Gaps in opportunity, equity and achievement in Albemarle County schools have persisted since identified in the division’s 2016 equity report, according to the 2019 update.

“From third grade reading to the likelihood of attending college, our community fails to support students of color and those in poverty to achieve better than their peers in the state,” according to a draft of the report.

Division staff members presented a draft of the 2019 report at the School Board’s retreat Friday. The report includes a range of data and recommendations. Schools Superintendent Matt Haas said preliminary testing data shows improvement in the school year that ended Friday.

Haas said he appreciated the report and its inclusion on the retreat agenda.

“It’s been like pushing a wet noodle to just get it in front of the board and say this is the good, bad and the ugly of what we were doing,” Haas said. “I want to be clear: I really appreciate [it]. It takes a lot of people pushing at the same time to keep this on the agenda. I don’t think it’s going to fall off the agenda ever again, so thank you.”

The final draft of the report will be released this summer.

School Board members said in a discussion after the presentation that the division’s test scores and other metrics should be better. They wondered why students aren’t performing at a higher level.

“Somewhere about eight years ago, seven years ago, I think the board lost their eye on the ball on equity,” said board member Steve Koleszar. “And with the new board members we had two years ago, the board has gotten refocused on the importance of equity, and the board has to keep that focus.”

Board member Kate Acuff suggested that the body needs a strategic plan for tackling the achievement gap and improving equity. Board member David Oberg agreed, saying the issue requires the same energy that the board put into the high school redesign.

“I think we need to be bold,” said Katrina Callsen, a board member elected in 2017.

Friday’s five-hour retreat also included discussions about strategic priorities for the coming year and the division’s afterschool and child nutrition programs.

Russell Carlock, an Albemarle High School teacher, and Ben Allen, assistant principal at Cale Elementary, along with Adrienne Oliver, an instructional coach, worked in their spare time over the past year on the equity report, pulling together the data and writing the report.

“We are here not in a critical way,” Allen said. “We are here as part of this community.”

Carlock highlighted the changing demographics in the county. He said that in the next 15 years, there won’t be a majority ethnicity or race in the division.

“Our county is changing,” he said. “... We are going to see greater ethnic and racial diversity.”

Additionally, the percent of students who are economically disadvantaged has grown from 20% in the 2007-08 school year to 30% in the 2017-18 school year.

Those trends are concentrated in the division’s northern and southern feeder patterns while the western feeder pattern has not experienced as much change, Carlock said.

The report recommends that the division and the School Board “build more diverse communities through critical considerations of county zoning practices” and “ensure that diversity is distributed across schools in redistricting decisions,” according to the presentation.

Carlock, Allen and Oliver also broke down enrollment data in the high school academies to highlight gaps in opportunity.

White students made up 72% of the Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Albemarle High School, compared with being 56% of AHS’ total population in 2017-18. Black and Hispanic students, combined, made up 5% of the academy’s enrollment.

Since the last equity report, progress has been made, wrote Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment, in the cover letter for 2019 edition. He cited the growth in culturally responsive teaching certifications.

“This current school year also has been noteworthy for the progress being made across several critically important fronts, fueled by the School Board’s unequivocal directive that equal educational opportunity be more than a popular slogan,” he wrote. “On this achievement list is the board’s adoption of Equity Education and Anti-Racism policies, an equity checklist to govern all other policies and increased funding of culturally responsive teaching practices.”

Hairston intends for the equity report to become an annual status report on the division’s initiatives and continuous improvement recommendations.

Joanna Lee Williams, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chairs the division’s equity advisory committee. She said the division has made positive changes since the 2016 report but new initiatives will take time to grow and produce results.

“And one big shift is now that Matt [Haas] is superintendent ... I felt like we were listened to back in 2016,” she said.

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Katherine Knott is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter. For all the latest news on local schools, subscribe to The Cheat Sheet here.

Katherine Knott is a reporter for The Daily Progress and author of The Cheat Sheet, an education-focused newsletter. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter.

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