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City School Board candidates on student achievement gaps

In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards.  In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.

CHARLOTTESVILLE SCHOOL BOARD
THIRD IN A SERIES

Why do we have persistent achievement gaps? What’s the single most important thing you will do to close the gap?




Four at-large seats available

Adam Hastings

Our achievement gaps don’t start in our schools, they start in our society. We have a community of have and have nots, and I don’t think that as a community we recognize everyone as neighbors. I don’t think that we agree that we are all successful when we are all successful. I think it’s easy to turn a blind eye at some of the prosperity that our neighbors do and do not have, and some of the levels of success that our neighbors do and do not have. That achievement gap starts out in our community. It’s there. It’s ever present. I saw it today as I walked over here for this interview, and that heads into the schools. And our students, while they may be at separate schools at a young age, as they move into the middle school, where we funnel everybody through the same conduit and then back out, it’s stark when you walk into our school system and see what our students are coming with, both on a material financial level, but also just on an academic preparedness level. When we’re not coming in on equal footing, it’s hard to come out on equal footing.

I think the way we solve it as a community is to look at the whole system, but in the next four years as a school board we’re not going to revamp the entire school system. But I do think that early childhood education, pre-K, childcare, is going to start the creation of a scenario in which all students are coming into kindergarten on equal footing, ready to learn, ready for literacy, ready for numeracy. But it also means that we have to reach the current strategic plan goals of having a school system that partners with our community where we as schools and we as families work to create a really strong community.

The really great thing about Charlottesville is that we’re so small, we only have one high school, we only have one middle school—if you count Walker we have two—we only have one middle school system. The great thing about our size is that we have the ability to do whatever we want. We don’t have that many masters in that town. We can choose our own destiny, whereas a larger school district I think would have a harder time with that. But I think we’re going to have to make a conscious decision, an effort for those students that start in our system, we need to create an educational program for them so that they come in on equal footing and they have a chance to keep growing through that the whole way. But it’s going to be a long time coming. It’s not a one-year solution. If anything, if we start in kindergarten, it’s a 13-year solution.

That requires a lot of long-term stick-to-it-ness, a lot of community focus, and I think in this community we have a lot of issues that pop up a lot, and we have a lot of issue fatigue. I think we deal with an issue for a while and then we say ‘alright, we’ve dealt with that one enough, let’s move on to the next.’ I think the success of our community rests on whether we can solve the have and have not issue. That plagues us, and our school system can be a major player in that, but we have to start and we have to stick with it. We have to do it at a generational level, and there’s a lot of real work to be done there.

Sherry Kraft

Single handedly? [laughs] Okay, first of all I think kids enter our system and go through our system with vastly different inputs. Not just whether they were read to at home, but all of the inputs from their environment, from their families, from other elements in the community, the values, there’s a lot of things. I think there’s a lot to that. And so it’s not at all surprising that there would be differences in achievement.

I’ve thought a lot about this, and one issue is to find out what is actually going on in Charlottesville. Are we doing better? Are we doing something right? And looking at the most recent data, which I brought with me, I think there are some things that we’re doing right and I want to find out more about what they are. But our scores for our African-American kids in third grade have gone up dramatically. It’s very interesting from two years ago to last year when these data came out. The scores for the Hispanic students have gone up unbelievably. And so what is going on there? Looking at the third grade, I want to find out more about what they’re doing. Something is going right and I want to find out more about it.

Eighth grade, there are also gains in all of those groups. The white students tend to do well and they’re pretty stable. Eighth grade is not as dramatic, but they’re still gaining. The African-American students gained 10 percentage points in terms of their passing the SOL in reading. In fifth grade, and I don’t have that with me, but in fifth grade I think it’s a little more questionable. So I’m wondering what’s going on from third grade to fifth grade, and then fifth grade to eighth grade. I sort of feel like a CSI investigator. I want to find out what’s happening before I could say ‘Here’s what I would do.’ I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say “I will close the achievement gap.’ But if there are points of strength, then let’s build on what those are, let’s look at them. If there are points of weakness and patterns in this, then let’s try to find out what those are, and improve in those areas.

Amy Laufer * Incumbent

Well I think that I just talked about the things that I’m interested in doing, and I think the achievement gap is much more complicated than a number on a test. Many of our students are coming with a wide variety of abilities and home life experiences that we have to tackle each one individually. And I think a lot of it is professional development, it’s the truancy and attendance things I’m talking about. We’re working with the families making sure that they know that school is important and achievement is critical if we want to see students succeed beyond school, post-high school.

I think truancy, and extending the school day is going to be critical, because they’re going to be engaged in something that is worthwhile for two hours after school. I think if you’re going home…I think extending the school day, attendance policies, professional development, those are all ways to get at the achievement gap.

Jennifer McKeever * Incumbent

This is not an excuse, I think we reflect our community. That’s all there is to it. We reflect our community. Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t, that means that we need to be striving to overcome the barriers that our students encounter all the time, and I feel like we try. And how we define what is the achievement gap is an issue, because what you see with the SOLs, for example, is all groups improving, so the achievement gap persists. So I prefer to look at reading and math literacy as areas of focus, that’s how I want to bring all of our children to levels that they can graduate, and not just be defined by SOLs or some arbitrary number. If they are enjoying reading, and are able to do math and are enjoying using computers, and we can define that analysis, and certainly the state does by using the SOLs, but those gaps are persisting, and the one thing I would do continue to close the gap is support additional coaching in our schools to support teachers to constantly be digging into our own biases, and to make sure that we’re at appropriate discipline for all of our children. That is the direction that I would like to see our focus on the achievement gap go.