In the next four years, we in Charlottesville have some major challenges facing us in the area of education.
The single most important issue in local education is the achievement gap in Charlottesville City schools. Despite the fact that Charlottesville Schools are rated among the best in the Commonwealth in many program areas, there is still a significant achievement gap that hinders the academic success of many students. We stand here at Walker Upper Elementary School to talk about the achievement gap, because here at Walker, the teachers and staff have made great progress in recent years in helping to close that gap.
An achievement gap is obvious from looking at the statistics; the testing performance and graduation rates for African-American and poorer students are over 25% lower than the average for all students.
The achievement gap is not caused by a lack of financial support from the City. Charlottesville is number one in Virginia in added funding above the Standards of Quality requirements; we are number six in the state in per pupil expenditures, and we are near the top in teacher salaries among comparable school divisions.
Nor is the achievement gap caused by failure of our school system and community to devote energy and resources to this difficult issue. We have a great team in place in our schools, and they have offered a quality education to Charlottesville families. The school system, PTOs, and many segments of the community have devoted countless hours to finding solutions, and they have established a wealth of specialized initiatives that continue to produce solid results.
Although we have seen some improvement recently in these achievement rates, we need to do better. And to do better, we need to look beyond the walls of the schools.
Too often, students come to school unprepared to learn and unable to build on the lessons learned at school, and it is obvious.
We would like to continue the effort to address the achievement gap in the following ways:
o Expand our preschool program. We still need to come to agreement on where the preschool program will be located, but most people agree that we need to expand the program.
o Expand adult education offerings, particularly in adult literacy and English as a Second Language programs, so that parents are able to help their children better.
o Expand workforce training programs. Poor performance in school is strongly related to poverty. A better trained workforce is a higher paid workforce. Job training breaks the cycle of poverty and failure.
Beyond these first steps, though, we know that Charlottesville will not begin to solve the achievement gap until we involve the entire community in the effort.
We intend to lead a community-wide discourse, with participation by all segments of Charlottesville, to develop a community-wide action plan for reducing the number of under-achieving students. We want the best ideas of educators, business people, students, contractors, artists, and families, to figure out how we can accomplish this goal.
The answers that our efforts produce will not always require a lot of additional money. We have learned, from the outstanding efforts of individual teachers, the PTOs, Book Buddies, the Rise program, the Walker Academy, the EDGE program and many other targeted programs, that it is possible to dramatically affect achievement without spending a lot more money.
The Charlottesville schools have many strengths. We want to build on our strengths.
When one of our children fails, that failure hurts not only the student
and his or her family, but the entire community. Our children are our future,
and we can ill afford for any one of them to fail.