From Dr. Heath E. Morrison, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been nationally recognized for progress in narrowing achievement gaps for our students. Dedicated work by our teachers, support staff and principals has been made even more powerful with our innovative, supportive community partnerships. However, achievement gaps linked to gender, economic circumstances, special needs and race exist, and we are continuing the work to find ways to bridge these differences.
This is not just a CMS issue – these gaps are found across the country. To close these gaps, what is most effective is a frank, candid and purposeful discussion about the things causing them.
We are fortunate – our community shares a desire to close these gaps. Many consider it a moral imperative and key to our community’s economic future. So the question becomes, how do we achieve this?
We must meet individual students where they are, then move them forward. Our students come from many cultural contexts and backgrounds. To meet their needs requires deep, thoughtful cultural competency.
Wikipedia’s definition of cultural competency is “an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.” In other words, if we can’t understand, communicate with and effectively interact with all of our students, we are not going to be able to teach all of them effectively.
We can also recognize that cultural differences between students are not deficits. Our diversity is, and always has been, one of our country’s greatest strengths. However, it appears that it is something we can often struggle to speak about.
In fact, while I was being interviewed the other day, the news anchor shared the view that discussing cultural difference is controversial no matter how it is approached. In a world of sound bites, we often do not have time or the connection needed to thoughtfully reflect the conversation. The result can be misunderstandings, trepidation, fear and avoidance of discussing these issues, particularly around race.
But now we have the opportunity to overcome reluctance and fear. By embracing cultural competency, we can gain a greater understanding of our students and how to personalize learning environments for each and every one. This does not mean favoring one kind of student over another, or blaming educators or parents when children struggle. It means dedicating ourselves to removing every barrier inhibiting children’s learning and maximizing their unique potential.
To achieve this takes commitment and diligent work. Identifying and addressing the root causes of achievement gaps is unlikely to be quick or easy. Because we are committed to creating the best solution for CMS schools, we are not trying to apply someone else’s plan and replicate it. Instead, our framework will reflect our uniqueness, the rich history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and our students.
I invite us all to do this work with deliberation and thoughtfulness, and avoid the temptation to rush a plan. One of our 22 task forces is working on this topic and we have the opportunity to collaborate with amazing community, faith-based, and higher education partners who have put thoughtful work into this topic. We are also confident that doing this work well will be a unifying, not a divisive, experience.
Our world is getting more diverse, not less. Teaching every student, every day for a better tomorrow will prepare our children for success in that diverse future.
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