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Schools equity efforts are promising

MY VIEW • More work is needed to help our students succeed
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The Portland school board ‘s recently adopted “Racial Educational Equity Policy” contends that the district’s “historic, persistent achievement gap” between white students and minority students is unacceptable.

As a member of the Portland Public Schools Board, I would like to respond to readers' criticism of our new racial educational equity policy (Equity policy squanders resources, Readers' Letters, June 23).

To be clear: This policy does not reduce standards or expectations in any way. On the contrary, this policy is about ensuring that PPS gives all students the opportunity to excel at their highest potential. Educational equity means raising the achievement of all students. As the policy states: 'The concept of educational equity goes beyond formal equality - where all students are treated the same - to fostering a barrier-free environment where all students, regardless of their race, have the opportunity to benefit equally.'

The data show that PPS has a long way to go in providing equitable opportunities for all children to succeed, above all an unacceptably low graduation rate for our African-American, Latino and Native American students (see 'Racial equity' next for schools, May 26).

We are aware that as a school district, we cannot control the external factors that undermine our students, including poverty, joblessness, and lack of affordable housing. However, with the new Cradle to Career coalition, an unprecedented collaborative effort is under way among schools, local governments, nonprofits and the business community. The goal is that by aligning existing city, county, and private programs and resources, we can, as a community, help give Portland's children the best possible chance for success.

For our part, PPS needs to ensure that everything we do is based on the core conviction that all children can and will succeed. As adults, we need to provide children with the supports and opportunities they need to help their talents emerge and their strengths grow. The responsibility for the disparities among our young people rests with adults, not the children.

Specific actions we are taking to support increased achievement and graduation rates include:

• Focusing on key 'milestones' in each student's education, such as entering 1st grade ready to read -and following up with students who need intervention and supports.

• Partnering with nonprofits to provide after-school tutoring and mentors.

• Expanding summer programs to ensure children don't fall behind.

• Professional development for teachers and other staff to foster cultural competence and effective, engaging relationships with their students.

• Hiring and retaining more teachers and principals of color.

• Changing practices that result in over-representation of students of color in special education and discipline, and their under-representation in talented and gifted and Advanced Placement programs.

• Encouraging and supporting active participation of parents as partners in their child's education - for example, the 'Parent Academy' classes launched this year.

Efforts already under way are showing promising results, with preliminary 2010-11 data showing strong gains across the district. We're particularly excited about the high graduation rates for students of color at Franklin High School, the school whose combination of supports and advanced programs was the model for our new 'core program' that will be available at all high schools starting this fall.

With this policy, the school board has established racial educational equity as a priority for the district. We invite the community to get involved by volunteering at their local school or with one of the many nonprofits that partner with our schools.

This work is urgent, for we know that the well-being of our community and our society is dependent on the success of all our children. Every child is precious, and every child deserves the chance to succeed.

Ruth Adkins of Southwest Portland is a member of the Portland school board.