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  1. Opinion

To support racial equality, make the classroom work | Editorial

Closing the achievement gap takes specific actions, not platitudes.

Our public school systems should be the major force for social change in the Tampa Bay area. They touch the most lives, they employ huge staffs, and they shape the next generation through the education they deliver to hundreds of thousands of students. So as protests involving Black Lives Matter focus a discussion about bias throughout American institutions — including educational inequity — it’s heartening to hear leaders in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties admit they need to work harder to address the needs of minority students and to close the persistent achievement gap facing black students. But they need specific remedies, delivered with a fierce sense of urgency.

A 6-year-old African-American boy entering first grade in nine weeks needs a good teacher and a classroom conducive to learning now, not in a year or two. Teachers? They need support, not top-down solutions. The best schools grow organically, from the bottom up, the learning done by one student under one teacher in one classroom. A bunch of successful students makes a successful classroom, and a bunch of successful classrooms makes a successful school. A successful school becomes a source of pride for the entire community and a pillar on which to build a future.

It starts with the right principal, one tuned in to her school’s community, its strengths and its weaknesses, its needs and its potential. She should have the freedom to hire the staff and faculty that her particular school community needs. A good principal should have the unflagging backing of the district — enough money, support staff, social workers, corporate volunteers — that she needs to make her school work. It can’t be a future promise; if she needs it at her school, she should get it now. She will not abide the racism of low expectations. She will know how to lift up her school, her teachers, her students. And it does take a community. Parents, even those working two or three jobs, have a responsibility for their children’s education. Neither the best principal nor the best teacher can do it alone.

Our future will sit at the desk with that little 6-year-old boy. How he and others excel or fail in the classroom will dictate the contours of our society in the next generation: who contributes to the commonwealth, who is a burden to society; who pays taxes, who goes to jail; who makes the world a better place, who becomes just another statistic. Yes, giving him the education and support he deserves might be expensive. What is the cost of losing a generation’s potential?

The school districts can take a cue from Tampa Bay’s largest law enforcement agencies. Instead of anodyne promises to do better, many have updated their policies with a specific requirement: Officers must intervene when they see a colleague doing something wrong. What are the specific things each district will do for that little 6-year-old boy when he walks through the school door so that he will succeed, so that as he grows up in an America in which black lives matter, he is ready to make his mark?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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