At the Asheville City Schools Foundation, we believe that strong public schools are an essential part of breaking the cycle of poverty, dismantling structural racism, and sustaining our democracy. We uphold the value of each student and believe that we have a specific responsibility to increase racial equity in our schools. We envision a day when all children in the Asheville City Schools discover their unique talents and dreams, fulfill their potential, and our district shines as a national model of excellence with equity.
Our work addresses equitable outcomes through specific, targeted avenues of community engagement, public education advocacy, and direct-service programming for students. ACSF has a successful history of implementing best practice research, employing evidence-based strategies, and engaging various civic, economic, public health, and religious sectors of Asheville to mitigate the opportunity gap and address inequitable student outcomes.
Where we’ve been
Advancing racial equity begins with each of us, and inside each of our organizations. The Asheville City Schools Foundation board and staff began our dive into racial equity with two years of self-assessment and training starting in 2012. With support from experts, we revised many aspects of our board policies and practices. We changed our programmatic evaluation so that we measure all of our work with an eye to impacts on racial disparities. We have made a commitment to continue to learn and grow in our ability to champion racial equity - we know that we have a long way to go.
In 2015-2016, ACSF systematically targeted efforts to address the opportunity gap on an individual school-level. At the conclusion of the first year of this initiative, four out of eight city schools had racial equity teams and were granted funds to focus on attendance, achievement, and discipline disparities between white and black students. All teams identified racial disparities in the rates of students receiving discipline referrals and created action plans with varied strategies to address these disparities. All four teams were able to make positive gains utilizing methods such as trainings focused on implicit bias, white privilege, and microaggressions, community and family outreach in public housing, and professional development on cultural pedagogy and impact versus intent. As a result, the total number of discipline referrals were reduced for both white and black students at these schools.
In 2016-2017, ACSF moved from a school-by-school approach to a district-wide racial equity training and implementation strategy. The first two years of our racial equity initiative discovered two critical truths: the investment of district leadership is crucial, and we must be persistent in the face of community resistance. With this in mind, all principals and district leadership participated in racial equity trainings during year two. Several schools implemented new policies and programs while ACSF advanced our programs by incorporating racial equity strategies.
In 2017-2018, ACSF collaborated with Asheville High and the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville in a student-focused equity initiative called The Listening Project. The Listening Project was a collaborative effort to identify existing barriers and opportunities for student success. A combination of volunteer community members including representatives from Asheville City Schools, Asheville Police Department, and the City of Asheville were trained in qualitative interviewing. Volunteer listeners completed 100 hours of one-on-one, in-depth interviews with students representative of our high school populations. ACSF collaborated with UNC Asheville to code qualitative data, disaggregate student responses, and identify themes. While all responses illuminated various opportunities for growth in our high schools, ACSF was particularly struck by the following themes: students are deeply aware of racial disparities and are eager to have honest conversations with both their peers and teachers concerning the historical context of race, current manifestations of systemic racism, and methods for advancing equity.
In the winter and spring of 2018, concurrent with The Listening Project, ACSF invited our community to participate directly in our learning through four events entitled the Choosing Equity series. Choosing Equity was designed to specifically address the challenging history and current manifestations of racial inequities in Asheville. Each event in the four-part series was intentionally designed to amplify the voices of students and adults of color. Over 1,000 diverse civic, faith, education leaders, and community members leaned into honest conversations about the history of desegregation in our school district, strategies being implemented, and how to work together to advance equity for all children. As a result of the Choosing Equity series, ACSF was selected in the fall of 2018 as a state-wide leader of community engagement by the Institute for Emerging Issues’ ReConnect to Community series. Alongside four organizations, ACSF shared the accomplishments and key learning points of our community engagement work to a state-wide audience.
In 2018-2019, ACSF funded responses to community suggestions generated during the Choosing Equity series including an educational book club for white parents on race and privilege, school grants to fund the purchase of books that uplift the diverse and rich histories of our communities of color, and grants to fund increased academic supports for students such as a writing center at the high school. In the winter of 2019, ACSF continued the work of The Listening Project with a community event, The Listening Project Live: Youth Voices on Race, Gentrification, and Home. During this event, high school students shared their lived experiences and perspectives on educational equity with an audience of over 300 community members. The evolution of our work and the ongoing partnerships we have built within our community informs our current work.
What we’re doing now
Our board and staff see a need to uplift the voices of those most impacted by structural racism so that we can learn more about how to best address racial disparities in our schools. We are continually striving to create opportunities to listen and engage with students, families, and community members.
With these imperatives in mind, ACSF is partnering with Asheville City Schools as well as two key organizations in our community, the adé PROJECT and UNC Asheville, to further the education of our community, increase representation of people of color in our schools, and instill a shared investment in K-16 education.
ACSF is funding a Racial Equity Ambassador program which will engage our community, teachers, students, and families in a collaborative, community-based approach to catalyzing and sustaining change in our public schools. ACSF’s partnership with the adé PROJECT and UNC Asheville will uplift the voices of our students and invite them to lead this community effort. We are resourcing and providing sustained support to the student organization Keepin’ It Real, a club dedicated to providing students with a safe space to discuss racial equity, community issues, and ways that students can advance Asheville through volunteerism. Keepin’ It Real student members will serve as advisors and active participants in our work as we progress. Additionally, we are funding racial equity training for high school student cohorts. ACSF, UNC Asheville, and the adé PROJECT are currently planning a week-long Summer Equity Institute on the college campus for high school students and teachers in the summer of 2020. ACSF is utilizing our equity research partnership with UNC Asheville to create a platform for college and high school students to collaborate and inform bodies of student work.
ACSF and our community partners aim to create a more systematized process of accountability that includes the necessary steps of listening, evaluating, implementing and following-up so that incidents that are racist, oppressive, unjust, malicious, and dehumanizing for students of color are not allowed to persist. Ultimately, it is our aim to facilitate a community-wide acknowledgement of the past and a renewed commitment to the future. By investing in Asheville’s youth, ACSF is helping to prepare the next generation of state-wide leaders, and to position Asheville as a national model of educational equity.
where you come in
We invite students, families, teachers, and community leaders, to join us as equity advocates. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for ongoing updates through our e-newsletters. Have ideas or feedback? Don't hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com or by phone at 828-350-6174. We understand that transforming this conversation into an enduring movement will require all kinds of skills and talents. Let’s work together to make Asheville a place of opportunity for all.