School board pushes to support students, teachers 

School Board Member Leanetta McNealy said at Tuesday's meeting that beginning teachers need support.
School Board Member Leanetta McNealy said at Tuesday's meeting that beginning teachers need support.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) heard a preliminary report on grades 3-10 attendance, behavior and core academics (ABC) on Tuesday. Several board members expressed concern over the inequity the report did not seem to address. 

The results are not yet fully processed, and grades K-2 were not ready for even a preliminary report. Director of Data Analytics, Accountability & Evaluation Taylor Gilfillan said this data is remarkably early, and he plans to share more results at future meetings. 

SBAC Board Member Kay Abbitt
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools Kay Abbitt

The district’s goal was for 62% of all students to be performing at 62% or higher, according to Jennifer Wise, chief of teaching and learning. The district is far from achieving this goal, with the most notable struggling subgroups being Black or African American students, Hispanic and Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities. 

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Board Member Kay Abbitt asked whether students who do not test proficiently move on to the next grade before they are ready. She said she was concerned that issues in proficiency were being left unaddressed and allowed to snowball as students move further through a system with significant difference in achievement levels. 

This year students were tested three times instead of once. The testing results displayed that, while Alachua County Public Schools began the year far below the state average in several areas of core academics, it finished at or close to the state average, according to Wise. 

“We can look at all of these things and sing praises for a lot of these schools that are doing a really, really good job, but I’m going back again to these [Supplemental Instruction] schools who still have kids who are not getting the instruction they need,” Abbitt said. 

Abbitt and several other board members also raised concerns about the county’s abundance of non-renewed teachers and uncertified long-term substitute teachers.  

Board Member Leanetta McNealy pointed out that beginning teachers need support, and if the school administrators do not provide it, they will continue to lose staff. 

SBAC Board Member Tina Certain
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools Tina Certain

“I’m disappointed,” McNealy said. “Because with a shortage nationwide, just think where we are here, in Alachua County.” 

Later in the meeting, the board discussed shortages in staffing and programming during the first reading of the 2023-2024 Student Progression Plan. SBAC Chair Tina Certain said that while she highly values art and music education, the foundational problem is core academic proficiency. 

“When we look at the student performance there,” Certain said, “if we don’t get the students up where they’re reading proficiently and doing math proficiently, the schools are gonna be closed.” 

Board Member Diyonne McGraw said pulling students up to proficient levels and getting students into magnet programs is a leadership-level issue. 

“It stems from leadership. It stems from having high expectations for all of your children,” McGraw said.  

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Rogers Corner

Don’t continue to dumb down syllabus to improve “equity.” Regain discipline in schools and buses, support the teachers and bus drivers. Remove disruptive students. For too long, you have let the inmates (students) run the institutions. You have to rebuild the. foundation before you will get the education numbers you seek.

Gabe Hillel Kaimowitz

Nothing in this report justified the headline. The news is that children of color and others who have difficulty in school are doing badly and no one on the school board appears to have a clue as to how to reverse the trends. Also testing students three times is outrageous. Alachua County apparently is committed to teaching to the test, which certainly is the worst direction the Board can take.

Jeff Montgomery

12 month schooling, with commensurate raises for teachers, is the answer. More time with butts in seats for the students. two weeks off in each of the four seasons. “summer break“ hurts Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately.