The appointment of an equity director for Alachua County Public Schools is an important step toward closing a persistent achievement gap for black students.
But even more important will be the development of an equity plan for the district, a process that must involve the public, employ practices that research has found to be effective and work toward measurable goals.
Last month, the Alachua County School Board approved Valerie Freeman’s appointment as director of educational equity and outreach. Freeman previously served in a variety of teaching and administrative positions in the district, most recently as principal of Chiles Elementary School.
Already Freeman has been meeting with district employees, including principals who have been doing a book study this summer on "Courageous Conversations About Race" by Glenn Singleton. The book study, which is being extended to PTA members and others, is part of the district’s efforts to elevate equity issues to the forefront.
Freeman’s experience in the district will serve her well in understanding the challenges here, but she also needs to be open to outside ideas that buck the status quo. She told The Sun that she has been looking at equity plans from other districts to find practices best suited to Alachua County.
She has also been meeting with community members including local pastors, which is critical to getting the support needed for these efforts to be successful. A critical next step will be convening a committee of stakeholders who are given the responsibility and latitude to lead and monitor efforts, craft and share reports, and recommend plans and procedures, said Diedre Houchen, a postdoctoral associate for the Center for the Study of Race & Race Relations at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
Houchen is co-chair of the education team of The Sun-sponsored Gainesville For All initiative, which makes proposals aimed at addressing racial and socioeconomic disparities in our community. GNV4ALL proposed an equity plan in its priority recommendations in the spring, as a way to help close an achievement gap that is worse here than state and national averages.
Houchen said the district must bolster and support the participation of parents who are most disengaged and disenfranchised from schooling. As she put it, “Equity means that you take the responsibility to construct bridges so that those who are the farthest away with the greatest limitations are welcome at the center.”
As new Superintendent Karen Clarke outlined in a guest column published today, Alachua County Public Schools are making progress but faces continued challenges. With the school year starting Monday, Clarke rightly highlighted the importance of community groups in helping address problems such as overcrowded and aging facilities.
Community members must similarly take responsibility for helping teachers and others in the district close the achievement gap and other disparities for poor and minority students. The naming of Freeman as equity director is a promising development, but it will take public support, oversight and pressure to ensure that the district’s efforts to achieve equity don’t stop there.