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Schools seek to diminish 'gap'.

Byline: ANNE WILLIAMS The Register-Guard

Like school systems nationwide, the Eugene School District has long recognized and fretted over the student "achievement gap" - the nagging disparity between whites and most minorities and among different social classes in test scores, dropout rates and other academic indicators.

Now, for the first time, the district has an action plan aimed at closing it.

The plan, presented to the school board Wednesday, outlines nine general objectives and a host of specific strategies.

The district already is following some of the strategies, such as establishing a harassment tracking system.

Many of the remaining strategies may be difficult to start and sustain in the current economic climate, said Assistant Superintendent Jim Slemp, lead administrator of an "Equity Team" that came up with the plan.

But the district got an enormous boost earlier this year with a five-year, $3 million Wallace-Reader's Digest grant to improve student achievement by strength- ening leadership.

While the grant money can't be used to stave off more than $5 million in staff and program cuts the district plans in 2002-03, it can go toward staff training and recruitment, two cornerstones of the new plan.

The district also has benefited from a three-year federal grant and a city levy to fund after-school programs, another important component of the plan, Slemp said.

Beyond that, he said, "it's begging, borrowing and stealing and trying to find ways to work through this issue."

The objectives of the plan are to:

Increase student resiliency by strengthening connections to school and support systems, such as mentors and family support.

Connect more effectively with families and communities and bolster communications between school and home.

Provide staff training aimed specifically at addressing and erasing the achievement gap.

Assure equity in instructional programs, school governance and funding.

Continue to develop and use measures and data that identify where performance gaps exist between groups of students.

Recruit and maintain a high-quality, diverse teaching, administrative and support staff.

Provide a safe environment conducive to learning for all students.

Increase and enhance strong, positive partnerships with diverse civic and business communities.

Boost the allocation of funds and staff resources to traditionally underperforming schools and populations.

On the last of those objectives, the district is putting its money where its mouth is. When it adopts a final budget later this month, the school board will likely include a $243,700 withdrawal from the district's general fund contingency to pay for a dozen one-time "equity grants" to launch pilot projects at schools with comparatively high numbers of poor and minority students.

Another $50,000 in federal Title 2 funds will go toward the equity grants, which include $33,500 for English-as-a-second-language staffing and counselor time, textbooks and staff training at North Eugene High School; $28,000 for summer school and a Spanish/English bilingual teaching assistant at Madison Middle School; $10,000 for mentor and parent involvement programs at Jefferson Middle School; and $63,000 for extended-day kindergarten programs at Patterson, Harris and River Road-El Camino del Rio elementary schools.

Slemp's Equity Team, which worked with the district's instruction department, was comprised mainly of district staff members who work on minority issues.

Team member Larry Williams, Churchill High School's multicultural affairs coordinator, highlighted the work force diversity piece of the plan, noting that the district's staff fails to represent the student population it serves.

The percentage of minority students has grown rapidly in recent years, and now stands at 14.8 percent overall. Latinos, the fastest-growing group, account for almost 5.8 percent of the student population, up from less than 3.4 percent a decade ago.

The highest percentage of minorities is at the elementary level.

By comparison, the percentage of minority staff is about 6 percent throughout the district.

Mirroring a national phenomenon, minority students in Eugene, with the exception of Asians, tend to lag behind their white peers on statewide assessment tests and participation in talented and gifted programs.

They also post higher dropout and suspension/expulsion rates.

Several school board members said they're pleased that, after years of discussing the problem, the district is finally taking bold steps.

"I think this really gives us a nice blueprint to start from," said Beth Gerot, board vice chairwoman.
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Title Annotation:Eugene: The district presents a plan to narrow differences between whites and most minorities in academic indicators.; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2002
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