In 2002, a committed group of Fayette County school officials, community activists, parents, university researchers and business leaders came together to form the One Community, One Voice and the Closing the Gap Community Committee.
This blue ribbon task force spent 15 months studying the achievement gap and developing more than 90 short-and long-term recommendations aimed at providing a world class education to every student in the Fayette County Public Schools.
The first goal established by the group was ensuring that every student entering fourth grade was a proficient reader. They called the effort "Every Child on the Same Page." It is time for Fayette County to make good on that promise.
My thanks to the Lexington Herald-Leader for helping start the conversation with a recent article about one of the recommendations from my entry plan. It's ironic that the headline read "Fayette superintendent developing plan for holding back pupils." Actually, the opposite is true. I want us to develop a plan to propel students ahead.
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I am not proposing a time limit for kids. This is not about penalizing students; it's about adults doing something different. I'm suggesting that we have to draw a line and say once and for all, we are going to provide the supports and enhancements each child needs to succeed before he or she enters fourth grade. This is a pledge we need to make to all of our children — let's collectively commit to doing everything possible to guarantee their success.
There have to be standards. We have to determine what every child must be able to do by the end of third grade in order to be successful in subsequent years. If our goal is for every student to graduate from high school ready for college or career, we have to realize that process doesn't start in high school — it starts at birth. And there have to be benchmarks along the way that we use to keep ourselves on pace and enable more students to progress faster.
It's time we get honest as a community and as a school district. We have to acknowledge that achievement gaps exist before kids enter kindergarten. The ugly reality of poverty is that it limits what families are able to provide for their kids. There is a wide variation in the experiences that children have before they enter school. Some children are read to every day. Other children live in houses without books. Some children go to high-quality daycare centers. Other children are parked in front of the television all day.
If our community agrees that achievement gaps are unacceptable, then we have to come together to support children before they enter school. We have to stop blaming families and start offering enhancements and enrichment. Efforts are already under way through the "Delivery to Diploma" initiative, but we're going to need widespread support and resources to shore up the early childhood experiences of Lexington's littlest residents.
That's just one piece. The fact that gaps exist before kids come to school doesn't let the school district off the hook. That's not an excuse to throw our hands up and say we can't do something about it. As professionals, we have the responsibility to meet the needs of every child along the continuum and challenge them to achieve at high levels. We have to meet every child where they are and move them forward from there. We have to change what we're doing if we want to see better results.
Equity does not mean equal. Some kids need more. As a school district we have to be flexible enough to find the right balance for every child. While we ensure that every student gains at least one grade level a year, some students will need two or three years of acceleration to catch up. Supporting kids who are behind doesn't mean taking away from kids who are ahead. It just requires that we respond differently. Our responsibility is to equip students with the skills they need to be successful.
I approach this issue as a father. I have two daughters and I love them both equally. But that doesn't mean I give them exactly the same things. They have different talents, and supporting their development and success requires individualized attention. My duty as a father is to fill both sets of needs in order to help them achieve excellence.
In my first nine months as Fayette County Public Schools superintendent, I have been amazed at the resources and talent in this community. The level of support for education from our families, businesses, faith communities and civic organizations is truly phenomenal. We have all the ingredients necessary to put an end to achievement disparities once and for all. The question is whether we have the will. If we can all get on the same page for our kids, then there is no limit to what they can achieve.