Jeff Charbonnet: Closing the achievement gap


Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.

Seven years ago, Eastside High School received a D grade from the state of Florida. This year, Eastside's grade is an A. In fact, our school earned the highest-rated A grade in the district.

Eastside did not improve its grade by focusing only on the achievement of students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Rather, it is primarily the result of the turnaround of the achievement of students in the “major program,” most of whom are minority students from low-income and often highly mobile families living in east Gainesville and zoned for Eastside.

A look at the data makes it clear that Eastside's A grade is not based solely on the success of IB students. In fact, the state's school grading formula actually places a greater emphasis on the achievement of at-risk students.

These students have shown consistent gains in reading, writing and math test scores; graduation rate; and SAT and ACT scores at Eastside. One of our top priorities has been, and continues to be, closing the achievement gap. And we are succeeding. Not only does Eastside have the highest overall graduation rate in the district, it also boasts the highest rate for at-risk students. The graduation rate of African-Americans at Eastside has risen from 40 percent in 2007 to 75 percent.

Eastside's major program students recorded the highest math gains of any high school in the district last year. In fact, of the lowest-performing math students coming to Eastside out of middle school, an incredible 92 percent demonstrated more than a year's growth on Florida's standardized Algebra 1 exam in 2012.

As more of our major program students have embraced the vision of attending college, their enrollment in Advanced Placement classes has tripled since 2007. Our AP excellence and equity score, which reports the percentage of students in the senior class who have passed at least one AP exam, has increased from 36.1 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2012. Again, this increase reflects the AP success of major program students.

These are just a few examples of the ever-increasing achievement of our major program students.

How did the teachers, students, administration and community volunteers achieve these gains? It took a three-pronged approach: a challenging academic program, lots of student support and a high-performing learning culture.

For example, through Eastside's ninth-grade block schedule, students earn eight credits per year rather than the traditional six credits, which will help ensure that they graduate on time. Eastside's freshmen are expected to spend 90 minutes each night on homework.

We won a grant to provide 150 Macbook computers for major program ninth-graders to help them meet this expectation and to allow us to infuse technology into all subject areas. Our teachers have spent many hours in professional development programs that focus on effective teaching strategies, student engagement and building literacy skills.

More than 100 volunteers from the University of Florida and the community come to Eastside every week as part of the “I Gotcha Back” mentoring program. They meet one-on-one with students to provide support, encouragement and monitoring. Thirty of our teachers also serve as mentors. Each of our administrators, deans and counselors is matched with a ninth- or 10th-grade home room class to build special relationships and provide daily support.

We have a valuable partnership with Santa Fe College through the Preparing for Academic and Student Success Program, or PASS, a college prep and academic advising program for 75 minority juniors and seniors. Monthly seminars cover a variety of college-readiness topics, including career awareness, choosing and applying for college, test preparation, funding for college, writing a winning essay for applications, academic advising and navigating online classes. Another partnership with United Way of North Central Florida, known as Check and Connect, is a dropout and truancy prevention program serving more than 100 ninth- and 10th-graders in the major program.

The achievement gap remains a persistent national problem. But at Eastside High School, we have made significant strides toward closing that gap. While we have not yet reached our goal of ensuring that every student graduates from high school ready for success in college or a career, our dedicated faculty works toward that goal every day.

We welcome community conversations about this important topic, and look forward to working with all community members who want to contribute to our students' success.

Jeff Charbonnet is principal of Eastside High School. For a column from Alachua County Public Schools official Philoron Wright in response to a YouTube video on Eastside, visit www.gainesville.com/opinions.

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