Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fayette Equity Council says students with mental health issues must be top priority

After seemingly taking a decade off, the FCPS Equity Council has begun challenging school district leadership again, rattling the chains for change, and speaking out about roughly the same data they monitored and accepted throughout the administration of former Superintendent Stu Silberman. It seems the time for promises may be running out for Superintendent Tom Shelton.

Closing achievement gaps among identifiable subgroups of students is undoubtedly the biggest challenge public schools face. If the data are to be believed, the single most enduring educational statistic is the correlation between student achievement and family economic factors. Schools are expected to overcome poverty and its powerful effects as though they control all of the variables. They don't. Affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, food security, access to healthcare (including mental health), adult education, language used in the home, access to high quality preschools (the things middle-class Americans take for granted)....many factors combine to sustain that lamentable correlation.
From left, former Fayette County Equity Council Chair Jack Burch, current chair Roy Woods, member Lisa Berman, and former chair P.G. Peeples appear before the KBE in 2013.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/12/04/2969639/states-takeover-of-breathitt-schools.html#storylink=cpy
But while gaps remain, overall performance of each subgroup is generally trending upward. This is real progress, but it won't show up in a gap analysis. 

This dynamic is well known to those school principals who have focused on closing achievement gaps. It seems that every time a new initiative is introduced to a school, even those intended to disproportionately impact disadvantaged children, students from higher SES families benefit as well. And since such students know how to do school very well, they tend to do better themselves and widen the gaps the programs were meant to close.

If Superintendent Shelton's ability to rein in rising discontent from Equity Council members rests on closing achievement gaps, he's in trouble. Maybe he is anyway. The confluence of major critical events has hit all at once - a damning State Auditor's report that hit the superintendent directly, redistricting (which only gets so good), and a roused up Equity Council (which has been known to express its displeasure very publicly when necessary) - all have the potential to impact and perhaps cripple district administration.

This from the Herald-Leader:
As Roy Woods, chairman of Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council, offered 10 recommendations to eliminate achievement gaps for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students, he put school board members on the spot Monday:
What will be different this time? Woods asked in front of a standing-room-only crowd of about 100. Equity Council members have been frustrated that years of recommendations, programs and new initiatives have done little to help students advance and close the gap.
Board chairman John Price said each recommendation, which ranged from placing attention on mental-health issues to holding school leaders with the highest gaps accountable, would have a date of implementation.

Woods said he did not want another task force to study recommendations that resulted from the district's fourth annual equity scorecard. The scorecard, which includes the 2008 through 2013 school years, is a snapshot that tracks student performance. It showed that the achievement gap had widened. The number of distinguished and proficient students on the state's K-Prep tests for all groups was lower than during previous years. Most of the gaps were larger than previously observed, some significantly.

"I think we have task-forced and case-studied," Woods said. "Now it's time for implementation."
P.G. Peeples, who served as the first chairman of the Equity Council and held the post for several years, said he commended the current panel for being tenacious with district officials. The council is charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the Fayette County Board of Education.

"The only way we are going to see change take place is when the board adopts the recommendations, mandates and requires they be followed through," said Peeples.

The top recommendation was for more support and attention to students' mental-health issues. This emerged as the primary need in the areas of achievement and behavior, Woods said.

Price asked whether the district could have a single building to house services for students with mental-health issues. Superintendent Tom Shelton said one possible option would be to move Central Office from its East Main Street location and to use the Main Street building to provide more programs and services for students.

Second among the recommendations was a push for more diverse school staffs that mirror schools' populations. Also recommended was determining whether effective teachers and leaders are distributed equitably across schools.

Board member Daryl Love said he thought accountability was missing in how the district handled equity issues.

The Equity Council asked the district to create an accountability monitoring schedule with dates on when issues on the scorecard get resolved.

Another recommendation was to require officials from schools with the highest gaps and their district directors to share the schools' gap-reduction plans with the school board and Equity Council.
The board will vote on the recommendations at meeting on Oct. 27.

Woods said the council did not recommend elimination of most out-of-school suspensions because the school board already had agreed with that goal.

Betsy Rains, principal of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, told the board that a program to eliminate such suspensions at her school has been successful.

Ebony Harrington McLeod, whose child attends Glendover Elementary, was among dozens of parents who attended the meeting.

"I thought the recommendations were very good," McLeod said, "but we need a concrete time line."


Anonymous said...

Tom Sheton..... Lost trust, broken promises, empty rhetoric, financial mismanagement , cronyism, stifling free speech and criticism

Anonymous said...

While there is merit to what the Equity Council is saying, I have a very difficult time believing that this timing isn't convenient. Discussing the scorecard at the Equity Council meeting in September, with the school board in October, elections (with two black candidates, one of whom is tied to the hip of the Equity Council) in November? Don't think this is a mere coincidence.

I think this plan would have worked had the audit not been so damming to Shelton and his staff. Ferguson wins easily. Barnett wins as well, but in a closer race. Bigger questions are: 1. Does anyone go on the Vengeance Trail after the elections? 2. Does Shelton leave? 3. What else is out there?