Alachua County Public Schools tackling achievement gap by talking equity and race

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ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla -- The Alachua County School District is tackling the achievement gap by having a conversation about race and equity on a bigger scale.

Valerie Freeman is taking on a new role with the school district as Director of Education Equity and Community Outreach. She has been a teacher, Assistant Dean, and principal in Alachua County for more than 20 years.

"We've got to back to the basics and the basics is educating the child. It means being able to have an awareness," Freeman said.

The latest data shows African American students in the county are performing in the lower third of the state. While white students are performing in the top ten of Florida school systems. Freeman's position was created to help close this achievement gap.

"The part of our plan to implement this year is to first be able to have adult to adult conversations that will impact this year. The interactions that students have with those adults," Freeman said.

All principals, assistant principals, and district staff will be reading a book called, Courageous Conversations about Race. This is the first time the district has launched an initiative on this scale dealing specifically with equity and race.

Teachers will also undergo training sessions beginning in September.

"We're also doing training for all schools with teachers on a 'cultural responsive' classroom. We believe it's Step 1 introduction into deeper work," said Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools.

An equity plan is also in the works that Freeman hopes will be written by the end of this year which means more initiatives like the ones mentioned could be implemented.

"There are some serious problems in those households, but we can't let that be excuses for students not achieving. We have seen students overcome and tell their stories and say and be successful productive persons in society," Freeman said.

Freeman said her department may expand and more people may be hired for positions in the future.