Oxford officials: No new school for low-income students

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Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey speaks to a group of people outside Oxford Middle School.

The Charger

Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey speaks to a group of people outside Oxford Middle School.

Oxford school officials say there will be no new school or building for use by low-income or low-performing students in an effort to close the district’s achievement gap.

A group of Oxford students and parents gathered at Oxford Middle School Thursday night after The Charger, Oxford High School’s newspaper, reported the idea was being considered by the superintendent and school board.

Some in the community worried a new school would segregate students by race and organized a protest to express those concerns.

District-wide, the achievement gap among students in Oxford is one of the largest in the state, says Superintendent Brian Harvey. About 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

The district sent out the following statement early Friday morning:

“Closing the student achievement gap is a leading issue that the Oxford School District has had on its radar for years. Recently, school officials began exploring options to address how to successfully close the district’s student achievement gap. Currently, the Oxford School District is researching several options to address the student achievement gap; however, opening or building a school specifically designed for Oxford students who receive free and reduced lunch or who are low-achieving students is not an option school officials are considering, nor is it a plan that has been formally proposed or approved as a solution to the achievement gap issue,” the statement read.

However, Harvey told Mississippi Today that officials will be going to Virginia in November to visit An Achievable Dream Academy, an “opt-in school where parents can choose whether or not to send their child.”

The school is a partnership between the public school district and businesses that includes a 4-week intersession during the summer, extended school days, intensive reading programs, accelerated math courses and mandatory etiquette classes, according to its website. Students are also required to take tennis lessons.

The school has had good results, with 95 percent of graduates attending college and students scoring equal or better than other public school students on state exams.

The Oxford Board of Trustees held a special called meeting on Friday where those in attendance could make public comments and share their concerns. The board also approved a statement apologizing and clarifying its intentions.

“To state clearly, the district has no plans to create a separate school for free/reduced lunch or any other group of students,” the statement said. “We will not tolerate segregation on the basis of socioeconomic status or race.”

School board members clarified that the district invited the Urban Learning and Leadership Center (ULLC) to make a presentation about their programs in several states.

“One of their success stories is a school in Virginia where some low socioeconomic students do have the option of attending a separate school intended to provide support not offered in the other schools,” the statement read. ” … However, again, we have no plans to create a separate school and will move forward only with the participation of the Oxford community.”

Oxford school officials are also researching is the AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination) Program.

“During a recent visit to a Nashville school, Oxford school officials were able to observe the AVID program in action. … AVID trains educators to use proven practices in order to prepare students for success in high school, college, and a career, especially students traditionally underrepresented in higher education,” the district’s statement said.

It went on to say the district will continue researching options to close the achievement gap.