Learning to bridge the achievement gap

Paige Richards, a senior at Central Kitsap High School, says being bullied because of her race hasn’t been a problem for her. The Native American student also receives the academic support she needs.

“There hasn’t been any racial problems. We’ve always been receiving lots of support,” Richards said.

Richards, who belongs to the Chehalis tribe in British Columbia, plans to graduate with honors and attend college to become a pediatric nurse. By some, the 18-year-old’s situation may be considered an anomaly since historically, Native American students are one of the four groups of students that are generally low-performing academically.

Working toward bridging the achievement gap so that all students have access to academic success isn’t a new concept for the Central Kitsap School District. The district hosted a community event Monday where Sharroky Hollie, executive director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning in Los Angeles, discussed how understanding different cultures to relate to students will help strengthen teacher and student dynamics and thus student achievement.

Hollie is a professor at California State University — Dominguez Hills and trains teachers around the country with professional development surrounding the idea of being culturally responsive. This was his second visit with the Central Kitsap School District. Monday’s community event at the Silverdale United Methodist Church was followed the next day by teacher and staff training with Hollie.

Aside from Native American students, Hollie said that Hawaiian native, Mexican and African-American students historically perform academically lower in schools because they are underserved.

“They are stuck in the system. We have to provide better customer service,” he said, adding that the “better customer service” comes from culturally connecting with the students because it will increase students’ engagement in the classroom.

For Richards, through the district’s Native American Education Program, she receives extra tutoring in math and reading. She added that the teachers she has had have always connected well with her and other native students.

District Superintendent Greg Lynch shared preliminary achievement data with the more than 90 attendees of faculty, administrators, families and other community members Monday. He said that out of a pool of 823 third grade students, 45.5 percent of African-American students did not meet reading standards. From that same group of third-graders, 44 percent of American Indian students and 60 percent of Hawaiian native students did not meet reading standards as well, he added.

If people have concerns about the district’s focus on diversity during hard economic times, Lynch said it is not something that can be overlooked because ensuring all students have access to academic success is always a priority.

“We can’t afford not to do that,” he said.

Maya Clark, a senior at Central Kitsap High School who is also a running start student at Olympic College, said there is a lot of focus on the achievement gap but that more needs to be done to recognize the efforts of students who significantly make academic improvements or overcome the achievement gap. The 16-year-old added that more students should be involved in their community as well.

Central Kitsap High School Principal Stephen Coons said that the school recognizes honor roll students with a breakfast and have plans to add an event for students who show “growth” however it is more difficult to design and track that type of improvement.

Clark’s step-mother, Regina Hill, an African-American, said the she would like to see events like Monday night’s community event designed for students as well.

“They need to redefine their outreach,” she said.

Hill added that school events such as having a “Martin Luther King, Jr. day” should be eliminated because people get the notion of “here comes the Black stuff” when it only happens on a periodic basis. There should be a multicultural emphasis, she added.

Although activities revolving around specific groups of students continue to be in the works, Jeni Zapatka, a professional development specialist, acknowledged that it is something that hopefully the district can move away from.

“We’d like to get away from having these months. In a perfect world, they would be integrated in the classroom,” Zapatka said.

Erin Jones, assistant superintendent of student achievement with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the district “got it right” by having Monday’s event outside of a school to make it more comfortable for families that may not feel comfortable in a school setting.

School districts in the state as a whole are beginning to recognize the impact of understanding diversity, Jones said.

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