Summit provides action plan for county school

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:02 p.m.

The development of an action plan to help a local high school increase its graduation rate and the academic performance of its students is the result of an educational summit aimed at confronting the achievement gap in Alachua County schools.

The 4th annual African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, or 4As, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. Educational Summit attracted more than 20 politicians, local educators, community activists, University of Florida students and concerned residents last Saturday who met to begin developing an action plan that will be given to Hawthorne Middle High School principal Veita Carter to help her increase the graduation rate and academic performance at her school.

The summit ended with a group activity that required people to come up with ideas for an action plan that will be developed by the 4As education committee and presented to Carter.

The main ideas that arose from the group activity was that more parental involvement is needed. It also was suggested that more adult literacy programs are needed to go along with existing adult education programs and parents should be surveyed to find out what they think their needs are.

Rahkiah Brown, a student at UF, said the community should implore UF to do more to help deal with the problem.

"There are many students at UF who would love to help local students do better," Brown said. "The university has so many resources that can be used to help the local school system and the community needs to take advantage of them."

The summit also included a presentation by Wendy Shannon, a guidance counselor at Shell Elementary School in Hawthorne and Hawthorne Middle High School, that focused on FCAT reading scores of middle and high school students. The data showed that 50 percent or more of the students at Hawthorne consistently fail the reading part of the FCAT.

"Our students lack basic reading skills," Shannon said.

Diyonne McGraw, the co-chair of the 4As education committee, said the summit was held to begin a discussion about the issue that will lead to action.

"We want to start a dialogue today to come up with solutions that will not only help Hawthorne students, but all students in Alachua County," McGraw said.

Dr. Karen Cole-Smith, also a co-chair of the 4As education committee, said the difference between this summit and past summits is the addition of an accountability component. She said after the action plan is given to Carter, the groups participating in the summit will meet to discuss how their particular ideas are being implemented and to measure their effectiveness.

"Veita Carter will decide how and what from our action plan will be implemented," said Cole-Smith, adding that Hawthorne was chosen because it has not received good grades in past years.

The school serves middle and high school students and has the same challenges that other schools in the county have.

"We are going to see this action plan through, and hopefully take it to other schools in the county," said Cole-Smith.

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