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Ten years ago, Bernard Hairston hypothesized that Albemarle County could close achievement gaps between students from different racial and class backgrounds by teaching to their cultural backgrounds.

Hairston, who is now an assistant superintendent in the school division, worked with educators and community members to create Virginia’s first culturally responsive teaching certification program. Since the inaugural class of four in 2016, 13 educators have completed the rigorous training, reporting and presentation requirements to become CRT-certified.

“Only a small percentage of the folks who go through [professional development] do something with it. We’re holding people accountable to doing something with the work we do. That’s the big difference,” Hairston said.

This year, the number of educators interested in the certification program has more than doubled. Hairston estimated that 30 teachers are interested in becoming certified. An additional 40 are working towards the less-intense CRT microcredential.

Hairston said the interest is due to seeing other teachers’ results.

Teachers interested in the program came together with a similar cohort of administrators on Monday to discuss how to partner with student’s families. Such workshops occur monthly, organized by diversity resource teachers from each school.

Whitney Hinnant, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Woodbrook Elementary School, was one of the panelists at the workshop. She described how she decided to meet the families of her 21 students at a location of their choice instead of doing a normal parent-teacher conference.

“One family went to McDonald’s and we shared sweet treats together. Another family wanted me to come to their home, and we made a meal together,” Hinnant said. “It was a lot of work. I was exhausted. I was meeting with a family pretty much every day of the week, but the gains … I’ve never done anything in my teaching experience that had an impact like that had.”

It is too soon to see the impacts of the CRT program on district-wide achievement and opportunity gaps.

During the 2016-17 school year, African-American and Hispanic students made up 11 and 13 percent, respectively, of Albemarle’s student population, but 2 and 3 percent of its gifted program. Eighty-two percent of students identified as academically gifted were white.

However, broader educator interest in the CRT program could help translate the experiences of teachers like Filadelfia Soto into data.

Soto, who teaches Spanish at Woodbrook, recounted inviting the mother of a student she had struggled to keep engaged to a parent-child class after school.

“[In the afterschool class,] he counted all the way to 30 and did multiple things in front of everybody that I did not ask him to do – in Spanish. When they left, that mom didn’t approach me, she just left, but from the door, she [whispered] ‘Gracias,'” Soto said.

Educators pursuing certifications will present the evidence of their progress during an annual equity conference, which is scheduled to take place on June 1.