Recently, the Gainesville Sun published an article about the Alachua County School District’s Office of Equity and Outreach and our School Board’s charge to deliver an Equity Plan by this June 30th. We wanted to share the questions and our full responses with you to better inform you about the ACCPTA’s broader perspective and experience with this office. You can find the published article here:
1. In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues school officials need to address when it comes to school equity in Alachua County?
The most pressing issue is having adequate personnel and facilities to address
equity in the schools. In order to address equity, we must have trained personnel
and resources and we must have a school environment where students feel safe
to come as they are. If we do not address general safety and security on all our
campuses and retain trained teachers, we will continue to address education
issues from a deficit. When the average age of our facilities is 41 years and
attrition rates of teachers are higher than nation averages, Alachua County like
other districts in Florida will continue to struggle to adequately address equity
issues. When resources of funding and personnel and the discretion local
administrations have over those resources continues to dwindle, addressing
equity means finding new resources and engaging community led efforts
supportive of our school district to provide for each and every student at each
and every school.
Our school district has started programs and policies that address each of these
areas. For example, they have decided to pursue a ½ cent sales tax to provide a
high-quality learning environment for every students. And, our school district
leadership implemented incentive bonus pay for teachers at high-needs schools.
The school district has identified and communicated its commitment to
addressing our achievement gaps (all our achievement gaps) by initiating the
Education Equity and Outreach Office, ending its first year.
2. How would you compare Alachua County’s efforts to deal with school equity to other school districts in the state and nation?
ACCPTA does not have the expertise to adequately answer this question
regarding other school districts. It seems other school districts in our state have
created departments of equity and outreach or something similar, but they are
as new as ours. We have little to add to what other districts are doing than what
is on their websites. The same is true of the nation. Organizations across the country are addressing issues of equity in leadership and membership by addressing diversity and inclusion. Understanding that our leadership at every level does not adequately represent the membership, both the National and Florida PTA have created commissions on their boards to address diversity and inclusion. The Florida PTA Diversity and Inclusion commission has introduced training at leadership conventions on how to develop leadership in advocating for all children as an aspect of our school communities.
The current Florida PTA Executive Committee has entered a coalition called “Real
Talk” with state leaders from the NAACP Florida State Conference, the Florida
Immigrant Coalition, LULAC, the Florida Council of Churches and other civil
rights, education and community organizations from across out state. This
coalition has banded together to identify and support solutions that help black,
Hispanic, low-income and other underrepresented students succeed in school
and beyond. These types of grassroots, community-led coalitions are the best
hope we have to support the equity efforts of our school district. Through our
association with the national and state PTA, we are better equipped to assist our
students, schools, and school district in finding resources, like grant funding and
shared practices to promote equity.
3. Describe your thoughts about the task the school equity department is charged with and how they have done in their first year?
We believe the ACPS Office of Equity and Outreach has a huge task on its hands,
especially for an office of only 2 individuals. We are confident that they
are tackling the issues head on and are the right personnel to develop and
implement an equity plan. Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Wolfe have brought strengths
and relationships from their personal and professional backgrounds to put in the
monumental task of producing an equity plan to our school board by June 30th ,
with implementation set for the 2018-2019 school year. The board approval date
is set for mid-July.
They have been talking with and training teachers and administrators on EVERY
campus to add the relational dimension to the achievement gap data their
department is in charge of addressing.
They have been busy meeting with the business, community and faith-based
leaders to hear what the issues are in the community and how the community
can better understand the equity issues we all face.
Also, they have met with parents. Our president-elect, Pam Korithoski was
honored to be a part of the parent equity input session. She found the district to
be transparent about the areas they need to work on and happy to let us know what they are currently doing to address our diverse community. The focus
groups had open dialogue and wanted to hear about all children’s experiences
within the school system.
Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Wolfe documented the input and shared them with the
group. We strongly believe that Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Wolf, care and are
listening to this community, employees, leadership, and all those interested in
the mental and emotional health of children in order to come up with an equity
plan to serve all children.
Mrs. Freeman has attended several of our ACCPTA Executive Board meetings to
share their steps and progress. We can see their plan evolving and
acknowledging that equity does not only mean addressing race but all children,
which includes children with disabilities, LGBTQ children, ELL children, and
economically disadvantaged children. The equity department is tasked with
helping every child reach their potential and we are confident that they will do
that, but that also means that we as a community need to come together and
help them achieve that goal.
4. What can parents do to help the school district deal with school equity issues?
Find out ways you can learn more about why achievement gaps exist and how as
a community member you can help another child thrive. Simply joining a PTA
every school year is a great way to start. This November vote yes on the local
referendums for children – (1) ½ cent sales tax for Alachua Schools and (2) the
Parents must be involved in their child’s education by simply talking with both
their child about what they learned in school each day and also by speaking to
the teacher about how their child is doing in the classroom and how they can
help. As parents we can engage our children on a daily basis by reading with
them at least 20 minutes a day, sharing a meal and talking about the importance
of what they are learning. We can learn how to provide our children with tools to
become resilient and empathetic citizens. Parents must support classroom
teachers in addressing behaviors that disrupt the classroom environment. The
professionals at school provide for the educational needs of every child, indeed
their livelihood depends on it. Ask how you as a parent can help every child be
A recognition that we are all in this together can expand the village to help all
our children through sharing experiences and knowledge. Listening and supporting the school district in calls to action for specific needs that will address
specific areas of equity. One call every year is for mentors. Our school district
offers several types of mentoring programs. Several need mentors, tutors, or
volunteers. PTA is a good way to get involved. There are children in need of your
time that our community members are ignoring. If you are fortunate to care
about all children and have the time, volunteer your time at a high-needs school
as a volunteer. Check and Connect, Take Stock in Children, CHAMPS, Lunch
Buddies are mentoring programs that will partner high-needs students with you.