For Kelsey Kilpatrick, this year she gets to walk into her classroom at Lake Forest Elementary School and serve just 13 second-grade students. Last year, she taught a combination of 22 first and second graders simultaneously due to lack of teachers available. The students ranged in ages 6-9.
“I’m having a great year because with 13 kids, I can actually pay individual attention to each kid everyday and make sure they are getting what they need,” Kilpatrick said. “A lot of positive changes has been made and hopefully will continue to be made.”
The achievement gap in reading school performance between east and west elementary schools in Gainesville have widened over the past 15 years.
We found that the difference in the mean reading performance of each year between east and west Gainesville elementary schools have steadily increased.
We went through data from the Florida Department of Education website and looked at the past 15 years of literacy performance of elementary schools.
Using Main Street as our boundary, we had four schools in east Gainesville including Joseph Williams, Lake Forest, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and W. A. Metcalfe.
In west Gainesville, we had 11 schools including C.W. Norton, Glenn Springs, Hidden Oak, Idywild, J.J. Finley, Kimball Wiles, Lawton M. Chiles, Littlewood, Myra Terwilliger, Stephen Foster, Meadowbrook and William S. Talbot.
Over the past 15 years, reading performance indicators have changed. In 2016 and 2015, it was English Language Assessment. In previous years, it was indicated as ‘reading percent satisfactory or higher’, ‘percent at level 3 or higher’, ‘percent meeting high standards in reading’, ‘rpf’, and ‘percent level 3 and above FCAT reading’.
As of 2016, all schools in east Gainesville are Title 1 institutions, have an 100% of its students considered economically disadvantaged and have a mean percentage of minority students of 91.5%.
For the past 4 years, Lake Forest Elementary, located in east Gainesville, has been a 4-time F school. This year it is participating in the Voluntary Public School Choice Program, meaning the parents of students zoned for that area were able to chose what elementary school they wanted to send their students. According to the U.S Department of Education website, districts must inform parents if they are eligible to send their children to schools they are not zoned for. Through the program, the district covers transportation costs by providing buses.
“The schools in Gainesville are kind of segregated,” Kilpatrick said. “I sit there, and I teach them about integration in schools, Martin Luther King Jr., and civil rights. I’m sitting there saying well, white and black people can go to school together and they’re looking around the room and they’re like “there are no white kids here’.”
Kilpatrick, who is in her third year teaching at Lake Forest, said that since many of her students come from a low-income background, it has been interesting to see how that affects reading performance.
“They start so much farther behind than other kids that don’t come from those backgrounds, so it’s just a lot of playing catch up,” Kilpatrick said. “They might make a year’s worth of gains in a year, but that’s still not putting them in at grade level. It’s just a vicious cycle because then they get frustrated, then they don’t want to be in school anymore, and then they stop trying, which means they stop learning.”
Not only has the school had to face academic struggles, but behavioral issues and low teacher retention.
“Kids throw desks, flip chairs. They tear all your stuff off the walls when they get upset. It gets to be a very hard place to get to work if you don’t have the passion for working with that population of students,” Kilpatrick said.
“We talk about it as an achievement gap, but what it boils down to is an opportunity gap,” said Dr. Holly Lane, an associate professor at the University of Florida whose research specializes in literacy intervention and prevention of reading difficulties.
From her research in Gainesville, Dr. Lane has concluded that in almost every area kids who were attending lower socioeconomic schools had fewer opportunities to be exposed to language and literacy. The only thing that was found to be an advantage for the students in those areas were the public libraries.
“One of the things we are really lucky to have here is that our library system is really geared to supporting kids from low-income families,” Dr. Lane said.