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story.lead_photo.caption Parent Emily van Schenkhof addresses the Fulton Public Schools Board of Education. She talked about racial equity and how the board should address the topic in the future. Superintendent Ty Crain said it will be "part of the conversation" in the future. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

Last week, a parent visited the Fulton Public Schools Board of Education to ask that it include racial equity in its planning for the future.

The words "racial equity" don't appear in the district's current comprehensive school improvement plan, but it does include goals focused on ensuring a better education for all students.

To improve performance, the district's objectives include a free public preschool, kindergarten readiness, improved state assessment scores and ensuring all students graduate.

Another objective aims to ensure the staff reflects the same diversity percentages as the student population.

The strategic plan was adopted in 2017 with yearly revisions to last through 2022. Currently, FPS is working with Education Governance Leadership Team to put together its next strategic plan.

Superintendent Ty Crain said the team has interviewed staff and will begin soliciting feedback from the community this summer and early next fall.

Crain said that as the district works on the next iteration of the plan to be completed by next fall, racial equity is on the minds of administrators.

"It will be part of the conversation," Crain said.

As covered in last Saturday's article, "Parent brings racial equity before school board", parent Emily van Schenkhof said that she has seen many people struggle to even discuss race and racism.

"What I believe is that we actually as adults are fairly ill-equipped to have these important conversations that mean so much to our children's future," van Schenkhof said at the board's April 14 meeting. "It made me start to think, could we do something differently for our kids? Do we have a possibility to equip them better than I was equipped when I was being educated however many years ago?"

In response to van Schenkhof's comments, Crain said the district concurs with much of what she said.

"We didn't disagree," Crain said, noting while there might be some differences of opinion, for the most part, the district and van Schenkoff are on the same page. "There was no offense taken. We agree for the most part."

The coronavirus pandemic halted state assessments in 2020, but data from past years shows racial disparities in student achievement locally — a gap visible in data from across the state and nation.

In Missouri, 24.9 percent of Black students and 54.6 percent of white students performed at the proficient or advanced level in English Language Arts, according to Missouri Assessment Program scores in 2019. For Fulton, 26.4 percent of Black students and 49.7 percent of white students performed at the proficient or advanced level.

For mathematics, 25.3 percent of Black students and 39.9 percent of students performed at the proficient or advanced levels in Fulton. Statewide, those figures were 18.4 percent and 47.5 percent, respectively.

"It's a challenge, that gap," Crain said.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Hubbuch said addressing equity is a focus of many in the education community.

In February 2020, the State Board of Education approved standards for the sixth iteration of the Missouri School Improvement Program, the state's accountability system for public schools. Equity and access is one of MSIP 6's major focuses.

Crain said the district has had internal conversations on all of these subjects, but that when the pandemic struck, much of the focus turned to addressing health and safety and keeping students in the classroom.

"Our goal was to be in school," Crain said. "Quite frankly, that took about all the time and energy we had."

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