Kyrene studies validate achievement lapses among minorities; new approach could set a benchmark

The Kyrene School District has a reputation for innovation and high academic outcomes. Now, it hopes to build on that status by being first in the state to also focus on educational equity.

Recent internal data show that success in learning doesn’t come easily for all children—particularly when divided by racial and ethnic backgrounds or a lack of English-language proficiency.

In both reading and math scores, Hispanics, Blacks and Native Americans showed achievement gaps when compared with White or Asian students.

It’s a statistic that administrators hope to reverse by adopting a new Equity Strategic Plan that will help to ensure educational equity.

Jim Verrill, the district’s new director of instructional resources, led a presentation to the Governing Board to introduce the new instructional concept.

The central concept of the plan is to provide research-based instructional strategies that assist teachers in closing students’ achievement gaps or learning barriers.

Verrill says that by implementing the equity model, the district will be taking a strategic approach to develop more personalized learning opportunities.

“We want to make sure that practices are in place to support learning for all students—regardless of social predictors such as race, socio-economic status, language proficiency or disability,” said Verrill.

The Equity Strategic Plan was inspired by the work of the Equity Team, an ongoing group of staff that has been in place in Kyrene for the past several years, under the leadership of Dr. Adama Sallou.

As the assistant director of equity for the district, Sallou says her role is “to focus on issues of supporting all students to have high-quality experiences and to help staff to understand the different needs of students coming from varied backgrounds.”

The new concepts of equity education will become part of the district’s Strategic Blueprint, which is a document that outlines the districts’ priorities in instruction.

While some barriers that students face are beyond the control of the classroom, embracing the learning needs of an increasingly diverse community of students, to ensure both academic achievement and personal growth for every student, must become a priority, stressed Sallou.

“The Equity Team reviewed research in the field and other districts around the country, who also exhibit gaps in student achievement,” said Sallou.

Arizona is similar to districts in other border states, including Texas and California, where the enrollment numbers show a “majority minority” student body.

It takes courage for Kyrene to recognize a challenge in the district and to create a new discourse to say all students are capable of improving their academic achievement, said Sallou.

Once the proposed equity plan is implemented, it is expected to close the achievement gap by three percent every year.

Kyrene Superintendent Dr. David Schauer says that the state doesn’t release data on student achievement by race, so that Kyrene will be a trend-setting district by undertaking this work.

“I expect we will be looked to as an example of the need for equal instruction for minority students,” Schauer said at the board meeting.

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