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Atlanta Public Schools Puts Equity at the Forefront

by tbakerjones

While Black History Month rightfully allows time for reflection and celebration of African-American progress and achievements, February, too, reveals the sobering reality that a vast swath of our fellow citizens remains far behind in terms of income, wealth, and education.

We only have to look at Atlanta – the most income disparate city in the United States – as evidence of the vast gaps. According to the most current census data, the median household income within Atlanta Public Schools is $167,087 for white students and $23,803 for black students.

Closely associated with this inequity gap is the academic achievement gap where white students are nearly 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers within Atlanta Public Schools. Looking at academic achievement, 76% of White students in APS are performing on grade level by fourth grade, compared to 16% of African-American students and 23% of Hispanic students. At the current rate of growth, it will take roughly 128 years to close the gap between White and Black fourth-graders within APS.

About 75 percent of our children are considered low income. But what is disheartening is that Stanford University research found that a child born in poverty in Atlanta has only a 4.5% chance of achieving upward economic mobility.

That is why equity stands at the core of the district’s 2020- 2025 strategic plan and will guide all of our work as a school system.

When the Atlanta Board of Education approved a district equity policy, it recognized: “Equity means the quality or ideal of being just and fair, regardless of economic, social, cultural, and human differences among and between persons. We believe that achieving equity requires strategic decision-making to remedy opportunity and learning gaps and create a barrier-free environment, which enables all students to graduate ready for college, career, and life.”

To that end, the Board approved the creation of the position I now hold: Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer. They and Superintendent Lisa Herring further supported the launch of the APS Center for Equity and Social Justice as the district’s first office devoted solely to advancing equity in education.

The center will examine current policies and practices, work to interrupt and eliminate inequitable practices, and create inclusive and just conditions for all students, in particular ensuring that our most vulnerable and marginalized students receive a quality education, including the necessary social-emotional supports, and enroll in supportive postsecondary institutions.

As part of our mission to graduate every child ready for college, career, and life, we must ensure that they experience both meaningful rigor and culturally responsive supports from teachers, support providers and leaders.

We envision school communities where students, families, and staff work together to build vibrant school cultures designed to ensure that everyone in our school community thrives. With Equity at the Forefront, we can ensure equity and excellence for everyone, something we can truly celebrate in years to come.

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