Letters in Response to the October 2018 Article in The New York Times/ProPublica

To learn more about the article and find additional information about the issues it raises, see our “Response” page at charlottesvilleschools.org/NYT. To find letters of response from the superintendent and School Board, read on.

Dr. Rosa Atkins
Dr. Rosa Atkins

From Dr. Rosa Atkins, Superintendent

Dear Community Members,

A recent New York Times article explored the achievement gap at Charlottesville City Schools, with the underlying theme that we are not making progress toward our shared goal of serving all students well. Specifically, the article focuses on areas where we have not closed the black/white achievement gap and features several students and families who describe ways in which our schools have not been fully supportive of them or other black students and families.

While the article highlights areas that still need work, we believe it is important to provide balance to this story. For example, we see tremendous growth in areas such as rising graduation rates (a 25 percentage point gain for our black students since 2006) and shrinking achievement gaps on nationally normed tests. We’ve also seen  suspension rates plummet (down 83 percent in a decade) as we have instituted a nationally recognized emphasis on mental health, positive supports, and social-emotional well-being. Our efforts to achieve equity infuse every area of our work, and we are proud of our teachers and staff members and the ways they work for and with our students.

Let me be clear that we are not satisfied with the status quo….

To read full letter, click here.

…in fact, all of us work at Charlottesville City Schools because we want to see true equity. We are committed to helping all our students excel, and we intentionally seek expertise, training, partnerships, and new practices that will promote equity. We also know that our country’s schools alone cannot solve a societal plague that has been in place 400 years and which is reinforced by growing wage gaps, our affordable housing shortage, and more. And let us remember that success is not accurately portrayed in either a low SOL score or a high graduation rate. Reality is more complicated than data.

As we respond to the article, we face several choices. We can complain about the portrayal. We can dispute ideas and characterizations that seem wrong or incomplete. We can defend ourselves by pointing out the various programs and practices that are in place to address these concerns. We can recite other statistics that paint a brighter – but still not equitable – portrait of our current status.

But I believe our primary response should be to listen and learn from the central truth of this article: We have not made consistent or satisfactory progress for all our students. Through this article and through a beautiful presentation by the CHS Black Student Union at our October School Board meeting, we can learn from the words and experiences of our brave students and families who are advocating for their peers and the students who will follow them through our schools. We need to learn why our significant efforts to promote equity have so far not yielded all the fruit that we hope for.

Therefore, our first action  will be engagement and outreach, beginning with a community forum on October 23, at 7 p.m. at CHS. As we speak, we will describe how we have been approaching this issue. As we listen, we will seek to learn why our programs and efforts have not connected with more of our students and families. As we learn, we will identify resources and strategies that will enable us to adjust our programs, practices, culture, and commitments. As we speak, listen and learn, we will work to build mutual trust among each other and between ourselves and our community of students, families, and advocates.

Why is equity so important? Some of us will speak of righting wrongs. Some of us will speak of the beauty and value of diversity. As a black woman and a human, I am invested in justice and I am inspired by diversity. I also focus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s reminder that we are all interrelated and “tied in a single garment of destiny.” The future health and prosperity of Charlottesville depends on all of the members of our community. I’m struck by the words that Australian artist Lilla Watson expressed on behalf of the Aboriginal community: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Charlottesville, let us work together.

Dr. Rosa S. Atkins
Superintendent

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Response from Juan Wade (chair) and the Charlottesville City Schools Board

The School Board would like to affirm the sentiments of Dr. Atkins’ letter. Like the teachers, administrators, and staff of Charlottesville City Schools, we serve on the School Board because we want to advocate for all students. These issues have been at the forefront of our discussions and actions. These persistent disparities are what prompted us to run and serve. Specifically, we would like to say to our community…

To read full letter, click here.

  • We are proud of our students, and want to help them achieve even more.
  • We are appreciative of our teachers and staff members, and we want to support them by creating policies and practices that allow them to be even more effective.
  • We are mindful of our school families and community members who bring varying perspectives and experiences. We want to work more closely with you to move our schools and community forward.

We are looking forward to Tuesday’s Community Forum on Equity. As we listen to our community, we will learn more and build on our current strengths and our shared commitment for equity in Charlottesville. We acknowledge that much work lies in front of us, and we are committed to this work.

Juan Wade, chair; Sherry Kraft, vice-chair; James Bryant; Lisa Larson-Torres; Amy Laufer; Jennifer McKeever; and Leah Puryear.

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