Though the weather still says summer, August 21 is the first day of school, and the new academic year brings some changes.
Less than a year ago, a New York Times/ProPublica story shone a national spotlight on some uncomfortable facts about Charlottesville City Schools: that black students are overrepresented when it comes to suspensions and underrepresented in gifted programs and honors classes; that only half of all black students read at grade level (compared to 89 percent of white students); that all of these problems have been going on for a very long time.
In some ways, the story’s focus on Charlottesville felt unfair—the racial achievement gap is a national problem, and the inequities here are similar to those in other liberal college towns like Berkeley and Ann Arbor. The article, clearly occasioned by the 2017 Unite the Right rally, failed to consider the relationship between Charlottesville and Albemarle County, which has a wealthier, whiter student body but still grapples with similarly troubling statistics (roughly 1 in 9 white students in the county are identified as gifted, compared to 1 in 55 black students).
But as T. Denise Johnson, a Charlottesville native and the city’s new supervisor of equity and inclusion tells us, some things happen for a reason. And whether it was the ProPublica story, our new awareness of systemic inequalities, or simply the fact that conversations that have been happening for decades had finally reached a tipping point, Charlottesville City Schools seems ready to make some changes.
The city is overhauling its gifted program and extending honors-option classes, in which students can pursue honors credit without being funneled into separate classes,
to Walker and Buford (they already exists at CHS).
Johnson, who grew up in city schools and comes to the position after leading City
of Promise, is clear-eyed about the systemic nature of these issues—the schools don’t exist apart from the community; our problems, and solutions, are intertwined. But she’s also optimistic and eager to dig in. “I live in hope,” she says. We do, too.