Charlottesville City Schools plans to host several community forums on racial equity this year. The first forum was held at Charlottesville High School on Tuesday. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
About 300 people came to Charlottesville High School on Tuesday for a community forum on racial equity in the city’s public schools.
“We have done a lot to address this issue, but we still have not seen the equitable results that we all want and need,” Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.
Charlottesville City Schools organized the forum in response to a recent article by the New York Times and ProPublica that investigated the achievement gap between the city’s black students and their white peers.
“Taken on the whole, this article has made us realize that we have not fully lined up with the values that we have communicated,” Atkins said.
Since 2013, fewer than 60 percent of Charlottesville’s black students have passed state Standards of Learning exams for reading, while the pass rate for white students was more than 90 percent. Similar gaps exist in the SOL results for other subjects.
The New York Times/ProPublica article focused on racial disparities in Quest, the school division’s program for gifted students. White students are four times as likely as black students to be selected for the program, according to new federal data.
“As long as you are pulling out 30 or 40 kids [in a school] for extra instruction, it’s not going to be equitable,” said Zyahna Bryant, a senior at CHS who was featured in the article.
Community relations specialist Beth Cheuk shared the results of a survey the school division sent to parents after the New York Times/ProPublica article was published last week.
Cheuk noted that, while black students make up about a third of the division’s students, only 14 percent of survey respondents identified as black.
“It’s an affirmation of one of the things we have known: that we communicate in a two-way dialogue with some members of our community better than others,” Cheuk said.
The survey found that Charlottesville’s black parents were significantly less satisfied with how their school addressed their child’s needs and their own concerns and ideas for their child’s education.
Forum attendees were divided into about a dozen smaller groups, where they discussed topics New York Times/ProPublica story that black survey respondents were most interested in: hiring and supporting teachers of color, advanced course enrollment and course selection, the achievement gap, gifted instruction and identification and SOL tests.
In one discussion group, Teletha Howard said her son has been denied opportunities to take Advanced Placement courses at CHS.
“I shouldn’t have to go to his teachers and guidance counselors. … If he’s testing at that level, he should be asked to take those classes,” Howard said. “I think there should be equal opportunity for everyone, and I’m not sure there is.”
Of the 439 CHS students who took AP exams in 2018, 9 percent were black, and 69 percent were white. White students received 518 passing scores, while black students received 30.
Charlottesville School Board member Sherry Kraft said the division will have to study “the various layers of advantage that white, privileged parents in the school system have.”
“It’s like there are two different worlds of communication,” Kraft said.
“This perception that [Charlottesville students] are going through a school system that is separate from a bunch of other kids in the same buildings is unacceptable,” said Charlene Green, manager of Charlottesville’s Office of Human Rights.
Atkins said Charlottesville City Schools plans to host another community forum at CHS on Nov. 27 after collecting more feedback from students and teachers.
“We will synthesize that feedback and be ready to give it back the community. And we will discuss what we can do to have an impact on this,” Atkins said.

Josh Mandell

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.