Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board to take two-fold approach on equity

Members of the Campaign for Racial Equity have been waiting since October for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board to respond to an 80-page report detailing district-wide racial disparities they say lead to higher suspension rates and lower academic scores for black and Latino students.

Superintendent Tom Forcella suggested a focused community dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders. The campaign requested a face-to-face work session with the school board to review the report.

On Thursday, school board members said they want both. The board agreed to host a work session with the the campaign before scheduling a focused dialogue early next year.

Speaking after the meeting, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Education Committee member and campaign organizer Miriam Thompson said she was pleased with the outcome.

“I think the reaction was really one of great hope, because they finally responded to months of intense energy,” she said.

She said the campaign’s work has created a new sense of urgency to fix problems that have plagued the district for decades.

Greg McElveen is a former school board member and current chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Education Committee. He reminded the board: “Our district has never lacked for initiatives designed to address achievement gaps and racial disparities. However, as we know, progress has been limited. It was this continued gap between published goals and actual achievement along multiple dimensions that led to the formation of the Campaign for Racial Equity.”

Board member Michelle Brownstein said review of the report had been delayed until three new board members were sworn in earlier this month.

“I’ve heard the frustration, but I also appreciate the community’s patience, in that I do think this is going to be much better having our new board members be a part of the conversation,” she said.

The conversation on how to ensure racial equity in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will take place in multiple settings in the months ahead.

An exclusive meeting between a single group and the board is not sufficiently collaborative to garner the support and buy-in necessary for meaningful change.

Tom Forcella, superintendent

In addition to dedicating a future school board work session to the full campaign report and the group’s eight equity goals, the district will hold a focused community dialogue, a model previously used to gather feedback on budget negotiations, overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary, and the school system’s long-range plan.

Forcella said the dialogue will help hone the details of the district’s equity plan.

“The idea was we really need to have a very specific five-year plan that has very focused actions and accountability measures,” he said.

In a memo to the board, he cautioned against relying solely on the CFRE report, writing: “An exclusive meeting between a single group and the board is not sufficiently collaborative to garner the support and buy-in necessary for meaningful change. A top-down approach rarely works in public education.”

Thompson pushed back against that assessment, calling the CFRE a broadly representative coalition that included stakeholders district officials would be unlikely to reach.

A large gathering is more appropriately convened when we have empowered our most vulnerable constituencies and their advocates.

Miriam Thompson, Campaign for Racial Equity

“I worry that Dr. Forcella’s proposal might diminish and even silence the voices we want to reach, often the most vulnerable the district has not served well,” she said. “Those voices we heard during the campaign in small and safe conversations, and the voices we now seek to amplify, helped inform the campaign’s initial conclusions and recommendations. A large gathering is more appropriately convened when we have empowered our most vulnerable constituencies and their advocates.”

In addition to district-sponsored discussions, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and campaign plan to hold a public forum on equity in schools on Jan. 23. Newly seated school board member Rani Dasi urged administrators to find a way to work with the organizers.

“Is there a way we can be more collaborative in those forums?” she asked. “I think you’re going to engage similar groups, and it would be really powerful to have the support of a lot of folks behind us as we go forward.”

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