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School board: Students need support from the community
Exposing students to future options is essential
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School systems can exhaust their resources until their bank accounts run dry, but, local school leaders say, until the community raises its expectations for students, consistently high success rates, across the board, are harder to reach.

“One of the things I’ve found out is we will never have all the resources to do all that we need to do and as hard as we try, there will still be components that are missing,” Chairman Willie Mitchell said at the Gainesville City School Board of Education retreat on Thursday. “The majority of the time, I’ve found out, when the community support is there things shape up.”

According to the initial balanced scorecard, a measure of achievement for the system, including subgroup comparisons, there are still some achievement gaps for minorities, particularly in social studies and science.

For example, on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, 75 percent of all fourth-graders met the science standards.

There was, however, a gap between subgroups. About 58 percent of black fourth-graders met the science standards, along with 68 percent of Hispanic students. More than 90 percent of white students met the standard.

The goal for the system was 70 percent.

But the board members say to close those gaps and, more importantly, provide students with future opportunities, communities must support their students.

Mitchell, who has been on the board since 1990, said he has seen what some students go through in their personal lives.

“You’re talking about kids that, if we go riding, we can find their mom or dad sleeping under the bridge,” said Mitchell.

Those kids, he said, need people who understand them and can relate to their particular situations.

“I say this, just out of fact, but the majority of teachers that teach our kids are white, middle-class females with a white, middle-class point of view,” said Mitchell.

He said if those teachers can get assistance from someone who understands, specifically someone in their community, then the student is more apt to learn and succeed.

“When you get people in the community that understand and everybody working together, then it will work better,” said Mitchell.

But it takes a collaborative effort from the school system and the community, board members said.

“It takes the whole village to raise a kid,” said Mitchell.

The system is looking to provide area students with greater access to technology, including the technology lab planned for the new Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

The school will also act as a community center.

“First of all, we have to acknowledge that the problem exists and we have to commit ourselves to finding solutions,” said Delores Diaz, board member. “We have to provide opportunities.”

Exposing students to various things, including different career paths and future options, at an early age, is essential.

“So many of our students, and I’ll use the Hispanic students as an example, don’t know they have choices,” said Diaz. “They just don’t know that. Children learn what they live.”

According to the balanced scorecard, only 22 percent of 10th-grade English learners are on track for graduation.

“We need to raise expectations because students will rise or fall to our expectations of them,” said Diaz. “If you don’t expect anything out of them, they won’t give it to you.”

The system is partnering with churches and The Boys & Girls Club to provide out-of-class learning opportunities.

There is also a partnership with University of California, Los Angeles for learning support, and the system just launched “Read and Rise,” where families push reading through cultural familiarity.

“It’s not just rhetoric,” said Maria Calkins, vice chair of the board. “This isn’t a new idea. We just want to build upon what we’re already doing.”

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