A slide presented at the Suburban Balance event illustrates the achievement gaps between black and white students at Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit schools

Mallory Herrmann

About fifty community members and education stakeholders met at New Generation Christian Center Thursday night to talk about equity in education. The Dec. 6 event was sponsored by Suburban Balance, a local nonprofit whose mission is to inform, educate and empower families of color.

A panel discussion featured Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Lee’s Summit R-7 superintendent; Ryan Murdock, Lee’s Summit Board of Education member; Alissa Canaday, Kansas City councilwoman; Murray Woodard, Kauffman Foundation program officer; and Rev. Alan Shelby, of the Harvest Baptist Church of Blue Springs. They talked about the value of looking at education through a racial equity lens, the effect of economic disparity on educational achievement, and the benefits of cultural competency.

The event comes on the heels of ongoing and occasionally heated discussions about achievement gaps, particularly between black and white students, in Lee’s Summit schools and how to address the disparities.

Statistics showing gaps in achievement levels for standardized math and language testing at the third, fifth and eighth grade levels were presented. The data shown compared Lee’s Summit test results with the same grade levels for both black and white students in Blue Springs. In one startling slide, 63 percent of black third graders were tested at the advanced/proficient level in math. Only 43.6 percent of black third graders tested at the same level in Lee’s Summit, with 56.4 percent testing at the basic/below basic level.

“We’ve known about these gaps for a long time,” Woodard said. “This isn’t new.”

The sentiment was echoed throughout the night. During a small group discussion session, participants were asked to be honest, to be respectful, to be willing to be uncomfortable, and to remember that this is not a problem that would get solved in that room.

Eight facilitators, including local principals and parent advocates, led group conversations at tables throughout the room. Participants were asked to discuss five main topics: cultural competency (the ability to be respectful of and responsive to people from different cultures); recruitment and hiring of diverse teachers and administrators (Lee’s Summit R-7, for example, has a high percentage of white staff that does not reflect the racial diversity of the student population); culturally responsive pedagogy (curricula and materials that are reflective of students’ culture); access to advanced programs (white students in the district represent a higher percentage of participation in gifted programs disproportionate to their total enrollment); and discipline discrepancies (black students in the district represent a higher percentage of disciplinary incidents disproportionate to their total enrollment).

“It’s easy to think you know what you know,” Carpenter said of the exercise. He said it’s a different experience to hear from people directly about what they’ve gone through.

Murdock said he was glad to be part of the discussion and looked forward to continuing to work toward equity for students with the board of education.

“We need to get the equity discussion out of the board room and into the schools,” he said.

Rev. Lia McIntosh, a member of Suburban Balance, encouraged additional engagement from both parents and members of the community.

“Our presence matters!” McIntosh said.

She suggested that people get involved at their local schools, in their districts and with Suburban Balance programming and events.

To learn more about Suburban Balance, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005076460572. The Lee’s Summit Board of Education will hold their next meeting on Dec. 13 at 7:00 p.m.