Working for Every Student’s Future
Learning is all about strengthening connections – within the brain, between ideas, and most importantly, between people. If elected to the Board of Education, I would work to strengthen all of these connections to ensure that all students are getting what they need to succeed in our schools and beyond.
As a member of one of the district’s Local School Governance Teams, I have met with and listened to Dr. Means talk speak about his vision for CCSD, and I am hopeful that changes are already in the works to address some of the weaknesses of our district.
From my experiences as a parent and an LSGT member, I think the following issues deserve continued attention:
- EQUITY: Ensuring equity in our schools and district means that every student gets the support that they need. Students come to us from different backgrounds with different experiences, and so they have different needs. No matter which school they attend in our district, we need to make sure that we have the resources to meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of all of our students.
- SAFETY: Students and staff need to feel safe and valued in their schools, and parents need to know that the district and individual schools are doing everything they can to keep their children safe, both physically and emotionally. Risks to student safety can come from people outside the school, but they can also come from other people within the school. School safety plans need to be evaluated and updated with changing circumstances, and the broader community needs to be kept informed.
In order to address these areas, which directly impact student success, we have to strengthen connections in the following areas:
Data, Research, and Solutions
As a school board member, I will bring my experience as a researcher combined with my desire to dig deeper into the data and the proposed solutions to make our schools places where every student can learn.
While the state tests have their faults and are not the only indicators of student success, the reality is that results from these tests are used to determine how well a school is doing and often dictate changes to curriculum and instruction.
The state test data for Clarke County show that many of our students are not performing at the level of proficiency for their grade-level, and there is a large disparity between different racial and ethnic groups, with fewer black and hispanic students reaching the level of proficiency on the state tests.
Changes need to be made, but the changes we implement need to be specific and evidence-based. First, we need to look more closely at the data. For example, are students improving, but still not reaching the level of proficiency?
- How many are close to the next level and how many are just barely there?
- Are there subject areas within English Language Arts (ELA) and/or Math that are more problematic than others?
- What are the trends in individual students?
- Are the same students below proficiency each year or do some “catch-up”?
There are many more questions to ask about the data, and we have to ask these questions to make sure we know how to best help our students.
We need to work to reduce the number of disciplinary incidents that occur in our schools because disciplinary issues disrupt the learning environment for everyone, especially the students involved. As always, we need to ask questions to better understand what is working and what is not.
- For example, what disciplinary action was used in the past?
- Did it reduce subsequent infractions for that student?
- If not, we need to re-evaluate what we are doing – are we being compassionate and thoughtful about disciplinary action? We need to think about reducing infractions but must also consider the student.
While the goal of disciplinary action should be to reduce the probability of a repeat occurrence, we also need to understand the root of the student’s issues in order to address it, and we need properly-trained staff to do that.
It is critical that we focus on understanding the whole student. Academic performance and behavior are affected by many factors. If a student is behind academically or their behavior is disruptive, we need to figure out the cause. It is well-established that poverty creates unique challenges that affect a child’s ability and readiness to learn in school. Our solutions must focus on reducing the negative consequences of poverty in order to improve the educational outcomes of our students. If we expect that students from low-income families are going to perform as well as students from middle- to high-income families without taking into account the stresses and other factors (such as less exposure to reading, less parental involvement in school work) that typically affect these students, we are not treating them fairly. We should expect that all of our students can succeed, but we have to have the resources in place to ensure that we can support all of the needs of our students.
Below are just a couple of examples of things the district could do. There are certainly many other things.
- More teachers and support staff for early grades – the disparity between students from different SES families starts before school age, and therefore, students come to pre-K or K with different levels of exposure to books and reading. If there were more teachers in the early grades, they could spend more time reading with the students and exposing them to books. They do not need to push reading because reading is developmental, and not everyone is ready to read at the same time, but we do want to give them the foundation for reading.
- Modification of disciplinary procedures – a move to restorative justice that begins in elementary school would proactively address some of the factors that lead to disciplinary problems later. Teaching children how to resolve conflicts, form relationships, and understand their emotions at a young age and having consistent expectations as they grow up in the school district will have positive results for the students while in CCSD and beyond.
Making large-scale changes can be expensive and time-consuming, but so is continuing to use an ineffective system! Change is necessary.
We need to ensure that we are putting our time and effort toward solutions that have a high likelihood of improving student performance. To do this, we need to look at existing, high-quality research on systems and programs and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support making a change.
Because more than ⅓ of Athens-Clarke County residents live in poverty, a large number of our students are faced with unique challenges that affect their ability and readiness to learn in school (see Engle & Black, 2008 for a review). Our solutions must focus on reducing the negative consequences of poverty in order to improve the educational outcomes of our students. Finally, we need a clear goal and a timeline so that we can determine whether or not a change is working for our district.
School and Community
Athens is a unique community in a number of ways. One thing that makes it truly exceptional is that we have a world-class research institution in our backyard. CCSD and UGA have already established a number of partnerships and we should continue to take advantage of opportunities for our students to learn from experts in their fields and for our policies to be informed by researchers studying educational policy.
In addition to UGA, we have local businesses, organizations, parents, and community members who can enhance the education of our students. Local School Governance Teams, which consist of parents, teachers, and community members (and students at the middle and high school levels), have recently been established at each school in the district. This has been a great way for the community to become more invested in their local schools, and strengthening these local connections will continue to benefit our students.
School and Home
There is a large body of research on the positive association between parental involvement and academic achievement (e.g., Hill & Tyson, 2009; Morera et al., 2015), including meta-analyses specifically focused on parental involvement and academic achievement in minority students (e.g., Jeynes, 2003; 2005; 2007). Parental involvement is a broad concept, but in a recent meta-analysis (Morera et al, 2015), three types of parental involvement had the strongest association with student achievement:
- high expectations,
- communication about school activities, and
- the development of good reading habits.
Teachers and administrators understand the importance of parental involvement, but many do not know the best ways to promote participation, specifically in underrepresented populations. This is an area where our teachers and administrators would benefit from additional training and/or community-led outreach to underserved areas of town.
At a minimum, we need parental involvement to support individual student success, but our district would greatly benefit from the increased involvement of parents from diverse backgrounds in the decision-making processes at the local school levels.
Administration and Teachers
Our teachers have the most 1-on-1 interaction with our students. They are in the classrooms day in and day out, listening and seeing their students. Teachers know firsthand the struggles that our kids face – so they are some of the most important voices in effecting change in schools. We need to listen to our teachers when they tell us what their students need. We also need to ask our teachers how large-scale changes will affect their day-to-day teaching:
- What do they think will be gained from this change?
- What do they think will be lost?
- We need to provide multiple avenues for teacher input, and I think it is critically important for board members to hear directly from teachers.
Students and Teachers
Not surprisingly, a positive teacher-student relationship is associated with both greater engagement and higher achievement in students (e.g., Roorda et al., 2011). This connection is so important and is the reason many of our teachers become teachers in the first place. It gets more difficult for teachers to connect with all their students when their class sizes get larger and resources are scarce. We have great teachers in our district, and we need to provide them with the resources and professional development they need to provide more positive individual attention to our students.
School and the Future
The ultimate goal of public education, or any education, for that matter, is to prepare students for success in the future, no matter what path they choose.
- Students are told that staying in school and doing well will help them succeed in the future, and this is true, but can we do a better job of showing them this connection?
- How does what they are learning in school translate to a better opportunity?
- How can we use the strengths of our schools and community to make what they learn relevant to their present lives and future goals?
Students need to believe that what they are doing in school is meaningful.
Engle, PL, & Black, MM (2008). The effect of poverty on child development and educational outcomes. Ann NY Acad Sci 1136: 243-256.
Hill, N. E., & Tyson, D. F. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: a meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology 45(3): 740-763.
Jeynes, W. H. (2003). A meta-analysis the effects of parental involvement on minority children’s academic achievement. Education and Urban Society, 35(2): 202-218.
Jeynes, W. H. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relation of parental involvement to urban elementary school student academic achievement. Urban Education, 40(3): 237-269.
Jeynes, W. H. (2007). The relationship between parental involvement and urban secondary school student academic achievement. A meta-analysis. Urban Education, 42(1): 82-110.
Morera, MC, Expósito, E, Lopez-Martin, E, Lizasoain, L, Navarro-Asencio, E & Gaviria, J-L (2015). Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review 14: 33-46.
Roorda, DL, Koomen, HM, Split, JL, & Oort, FJ (2011). The influence of affective teacher-student relationships on students’ school engagement and achievement: A meta-analytic approach. Rev Educ Res 81(4): 493-529