Las Vegas Sun

May 21, 2019

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Achievement gap hire aims to improve educational equality throughout Southern Nevada

Schools across the country have an achievement gap between high-performing racial and ethnic groups — whites and Asians — and low-performing groups, blacks and Hispanics. Clark County School District is no different, and similar to schools nationwide, it’s working to bridge the divide.

Mike Barton

Mike Barton

In June, school district Superintendent Jesus Jara announced the creation of a chief college, career and equity officer position to help improve educational outcomes for underserved populations.

Jara appointed Mike Barton, previously the district’s chief academic officer, to the position. Barton has served his entire career at the district — from teaching first grade at J.M. Ullom Elementary School in 1998 to being a principal at West Preparatory Academy.

In addition to his time in education, Barton co-chairs the Clark County School Justice Partnership, which brings juvenile justice organizations, law enforcement, principals and student advocates together to discuss school safety, student needs and cultural biases.

Barton aims to improve opportunities for all students by increasing advanced placement participation and helping all students be career and college ready. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about his goals for the future.

What does the role of chief college, career and equity officer entail?

It hyper-focuses on student needs, particularly ensuring that all students have a pathway to college or a career. It’s looking at achievement gaps, students who may be in particular subgroups, and ensuring that they have the same opportunities as other students. It’s about closing achievement gaps, but also building opportunities for all of our students, whether it’s career technical education opportunities or having access to programs at particular schools. That’s really what I’m focused on as far as data—ensuring that as a district, we’re moving the needle on both of those things aggressively.

How do you plan to close the achievement gaps?

Starting immediately, we’re looking at middle school course offerings and examining whether all of our students are getting the most rigorous classes they can take, whether it’s mathematics or science. Then we’re ensuring that students in high school are enrolled in advanced placement classes if they’re capable of doing the work, which many of them are.

For the past few months, it’s been a deep data dive to see the problems that exist. And there are really transparent opportunity gaps for African-American students or those on free or reduced-price lunch.

Why do these gaps exists?

When you look at national data, it’s obviously an issue we’re dealing with countrywide. I think the issues are related to potentially adverse childhood experiences — it does affect how they do with school. So we want to ensure that as we build pipelines to improve the access to coursework, we’re also considering the social needs of students and additional wraparound options, such as social work services, counseling in schools and building bridges at home so parent engagement can be optimized.

What are some of your main goals within the first year?

I definitely want to increase access to Advanced Placement classes. I want to ensure that career technical education opportunities are less disproportionate, meaning that there are increases in minority students having access to those classes.

I also want to start building pipelines at the middle school level with rigorous classes to help all students—particularly minority students—have the pipeline to [more challenging classes later], say calculus in their senior year. We have students who are very capable, but if they don’t have the classes at the early stage, then it’s a disservice.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.