COLUMBIA — Closing the achievement gap may seem like a daunting task, but at the Columbia Public Schools' second World Cafe public forum Thursday evening, there was an atmosphere of hope for the future.
The meeting was held at Stoney Creek Inn, where participants were separated into several dozen round tables. They came from across the state and from many fields within and related to education. For example, one table included teachers, a speech pathologist, a social worker and a college professor.
Attendees spent most of the meeting discussing solutions to problems in seven areas of education previously identified by volunteer work groups for the district:
- Early childhood
- Before- and after-school support
- Family and community engagement
- Health care and nutrition
- Transportation, housing and mobility
- Economic development and employment
- Leadership and communication
Responses varied from table to table as educators swapped anecdotes and found common ground with one another on each issue. Feedback from attendees will be analyzed by volunteer work groups and a comprehensive plan will be announced at the third World Cafe.
Columbia Public Schools superintendent Chris Belcher addressed the crowd, explaining the measures already in place to help close the achievement gap.
The district has a five-year plan to increase the number of minority job applicants. One way it plans to do this is by accepting alternative certifications to increase the size and diversity of the applicant pool. Belcher further noted that the district will host a Minority Student Achievement Network conference next year.
Belcher said the student teaching model is being altered to become a cooperative process between students and teachers, rather than having a relatively inexperienced student teaching classes alone.
He also said the district is attempting to find funding to pay for Advanced Placement tests for students who can't afford the registration fees.
Belcher emphasized the importance of reducing the bureaucracy that those involved with the district must face to have their ideas for change heard.
More information about the achievement gap and the World Cafe public forums is available on the Columbia Public Schools website.
Minority Men's Network member Robert Ross encouraged the crowd to spread the ideas they picked up at the meeting.
"The folks who are not here are the ones who need our help," he said. "This is just the beginning."