Closing ‘opportunity gap’ means helping all students
By Romain Dallemand
It is with much gratitude and anticipation that I share these reflections with you. The gratitude is for the kindness and support that you have extended to me during my eight months in the community.
Your openness and willingness to assist me in various aspects of my transition to Rochester have made the relocation to my new home community quite memorable. Your support has allowed me to quickly engage in many aspects of Rochester community life, which has also helped me in the work I was hired to do in the school district.
My family will soon join me here in Rochester, and I am looking forward to introducing them to their new hometown. They are excited about the move and anxious to see and experience things that I have talked about over the past nine months. I eagerly anticipate their arrival this summer and look forward to the chance to introduce them to you.
Rochester Public Schools is a very good school district with dedicated, hard-working staff who care deeply and passionately about our students. Our success is evidence of our long tradition of excellence. However, in order to move from being a good school district to a great one, we must meet the needs of all students and prepare them for a multiethnic, global economy.
You may have heard me or others refer to the "opportunity gap" over the past months, and I’d like to explain that term. In Rochester Public Schools, 3,630 students, or 22 percent of our overall student population are not achieving proficiency on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments; that is they have not yet mastered the reading and math skills the state requires them to learn. These are the students in the achievement gap. This gap knows no color and crosses racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines; 56 percent of the students in the gap are white.
I began to use the term "opportunity gap" in late summer 2007 as I realized that the gap was about more than differences in standardized exam results. Several other important areas were impacting the students’ ability to achieve academic proficiency. Such things as widening differences in student participation in athletics, the arts, advance placement and honors coursework, and graduation were all pointing to a need for change in the way we meet students’ needs.
When we talk about closing the opportunity gap, we are talking not only about those who are underperforming, but also about improving the proficiency of all of our students. Everyone has room to grow, including our gifted students.
We have this gap in our schools not because our teachers cannot teach — we have seen the tremendous results of what they can do. Our gap is not because our students cannot learn — we have students from across our district who have excelled. Our gap exists because we have an education system that was not designed to close gaps.
As a result, we are developing a five-year plan to create a system that will provide opportunities for all of our students to improve. The courses we offer as part of our core curriculum will remain unchanged under this plan: there are no plans to eliminate anything that is working well for our students and current supports for high achievers will remain in place.
We do plan to make changes targeted at closing the opportunity gap for our students. And one of the most important elements in our success at closing the gap is the belief that all students can learn. The following Efficacy Institute statement best illustrates this way of thinking: "smart is not something that you are; smart is something you can become." Without this belief by all concerned, we cannot achieve our goal to bring all students to proficiency.
Within the next several weeks, Rochester Public Schools will present details of the Five-Year Plan to close the opportunity gap. This plan will be presented broadly throughout the community so that as many citizens as possible can become familiar with it.
It is my hope that the entire community will join us in our efforts. We not only need administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff to be part of this effort; we need members of the community to become engaged. I strongly encourage you to become an advocate for public education, volunteer at a school, mentor a child, participate on school district committees, provide support and mentorship to parents, and help spread the belief that all students can learn.
For these efforts and for all of the time and talent that you have shared and will share with our students and the school district, I thank you. I look forward to continuing to work with you, Rochester citizens, as together we continue to provide opportunity and support for our children, and in turn, the future of this great community.
Dallemand is superintendent of Rochester public schools. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org