Record editorial: Opportunity gap in Park City schools has narrowed, but effort is far from finished
The Park City School District is widely regarded as one of the best school systems in the state, and we’re reminded why this time each year as graduating students don their caps and gowns and head off for prestigious colleges across the country.
There’s one group of students, however, that doesn’t reap the full benefit of our first-class educational system. Data has long shown that Park City’s Hispanic students, who are often underserved, are behind their classmates in core subjects, graduate at lower rates and are less likely to earn a four-year college degree.
The imbalance has nothing to with smarts or ability. Rather, Hispanic students are subject to systemic disadvantages that put them behind their peers at an early age and make it difficult for them to catch up.
Addressing the opportunity gap, as most Parkites familiar with the problem acknowledge, is paramount. Park City prides itself on being a place where all are welcome, but as long as a large chunk of our youth do not have the same chance at success afforded others, that sentiment remains unfulfilled.
Fortunately, school officials have strived over the last decade to rise to the challenge, implementing a range of programs and changes designed to boost equity. The efforts have been successful. The high school graduation rate for Latino students in recent years has bordered on 90 percent, a figure that would have seemed astonishing even a decade ago, when only approximately 50 percent of Hispanic seniors earned diplomas.
It begins in the classroom, where teachers play a critical role by understanding, and adapting to, the challenges underserved students face both in school and out. Latino outreach coordinators help Spanish-speaking parents with things other parents in the community take for granted, such as communicating with their children’s teachers. Programs at the secondary schools like Latinos in Action and Bright Futures give students a network of like-minded peers and teach them leadership skills critical in their pursuit of high school diplomas — and collegiate degrees.
Still, the progress thus far has merely narrowed the opportunity gap rather than eliminated it. In the 2016-2017 year, for instance, proficiency levels in language arts, math and science for minority students in Park City lagged well behind school-wide averages. And advocates say many obstacles must still be cleared before the district can claim to be an equitable educational system.
The challenge of closing the opportunity gap is immense. But with leaders committed to taking on the problem, buoyed by a decade’s worth of progress, it’s clear that the task is far from insurmountable.
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Our view: Parkites must reckon with the fundamental issues of race and equality head on, resisting the human urge to retreat to our respective corners and instead make an honest effort to empathize with one another.