Chapel Hill: Opinion

Gregory McElveen: The path to a truly excellent Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district

By Gregory McElveen

The Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools has a reputation for being one of the best school districts in the state. However, despite the efforts of many well-meaning, hard-working teachers and administrators, our district is not working well for everyone.

Less than half of our African-American, Latino, and poor students have EOG/EOC test results that are even at grade level, and only about one third are on track to be college/career ready. This compares to 90 percent of our white students testing at grade level and 85 percent on track to be college/career ready. Black and brown students are disciplined at three to five times the rate of their white and Asian peers. Parents of color frequently report feeling disrespected, discouraged or ignored by school faculty and staff. Moreover, ongoing incidents of racial insensitivity on the part of students and teachers alike indicates that we are not preparing students well for the multicultural, interdependent world which they will need to navigate.

We know from examples of success in our district and elsewhere that poor students of color do not have to be inevitably destined to struggle. We know that in schools where actions are taken to overcome implicit biases and where expectations are truly set that students of all backgrounds will consistently succeed.

For example, 10 to 15 years ago, when Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia decided to focus on closing achievement gaps, tremendous gains were made in relatively short order. At Bain Elementary School in suburban Charlotte, 70-75 percent of African American and Latino students are on track for college/career readiness based on EOG results, up from 45-55 percent in 2013. At Providence High School in the same district, 65-70 percent of African American and Latino students are on track to be college/career ready. Schools around the country are successfully implementing efforts to do what it takes to empower children of all backgrounds to excel.

A report by the Campaign for Racial Equity – a coalition of Chapel Hill-Carrboro community organizations – documents the ongoing crisis of differential achievement and inequitable treatment in our schools. That report, entitledEquity with Excellence, the Schools our Children Deserve,” examines issues and challenges in depth and points to key elements of recommended solutions. Recommendations include:

▪ setting aggressive outcome improvement goals and holding leadership accountable

▪ providing schools with the training and resources they need to successfully reach students of all races and backgrounds

▪ systematically exploring and implementing best practices to achieve excellence for all, including practices initiated at selected schools in our district making rigorous curriculum available to all

▪ assisting students to better understand issues of racial equity through course curriculum.

School board members and district leadership have expressed a desire to close achievement gaps, and several initiatives are underway, but progress has been slow and limited. The community coalition compiled this report to help accelerate that progress. We have requested an opportunity to present and discuss this report with the school board in the near future. The objective is not to disparage the district, but to identify strategies that will enable all of our children to achieve at their potential.

We cannot consider ourselves truly excellent until families of all backgrounds are valued and appreciated and students of color are achieving at the high levels we know is possible. Anything short of this excellence with equity is clearly a major disservice to the many students of color who are struggling to succeed.

But continuing educational inequities are also a disservice to the students who are succeeding academically, because the disparate structures of success reinforce the wrong lessons regarding the value of diversity and the appreciation of cultures different from our own. On the other hand, our district has the real opportunity to break historical patterns of inequity. We look forward to working with our newly comprised school board and the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro community to help provide all of our students with unfettered access to academic success now and full access to positive new possibilities in the future.

Gregory McElveen is the chair of the NAACP Education Committee.


To read the Campaign for Racial Equity report, go to