Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 48
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
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Closing the Achievement Gap: PHS Students to Create Action Plan

Ellen Gilbert

Eight Princeton High School (PHS) students were among the over 170 minority students who attended a recent Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) conference hosted by the Bedford Central School District in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.

The MSAN is a national coalition of multiracial suburban-urban school districts that have come together to study achievement gaps that exist in their districts. In the face of finding “strikingly similar and disturbing disaggregated achievement data, racial disparities on an array of achievement outcomes demonstrate wide gaps in performance between students of color and their white peers,” MSAN “has worked fervently to discover and propose strategies to change school practices and structures that keep these achievement gaps in place.” Since the coalition’s founding in 1999, the districts have collaborated on conducting and publishing research, analyzing policies, and examining practices that affect the academic performance of students of color, specifically African American and Latin American students.

Princeton representatives to the MASN conference included sophomores Jackie Adebayo, and Lucas Lopoez; junior Derek Colaizzo; and seniors Diana Gonzalez, Nazinga Kambon, Emma Kioko, Handy Pierre, Chaz Taylor, Tajah Best, Sean Andalcio, and Jeffrey Adebayo.

“They were among the brightest, most intelligent minority students,” observed faculty advisor Lenora Keel introducing them at a Board of Education meeting last week.

Superintendent Judy Wilson had high praise for Ms. Keel as well, describing her as “an amazingly strong leader” who responds to individual students and groups of students in PHS and “across the community.”

Accompanied by a slide show of photographs showing them engaged in various events at the MSAN conference, students reported on the meetings and outings that occupied them for four days earlier this fall. They thanked the board for the opportunity to attend this and past conferences, and expressed their pleasure in being part of a national movement.

College seniors said that they appreciated timely visits to Fordham and Columbia Universities, while sophomores in the group said that the tours helped reinforce the idea of working hard toward college over the next few years. An on-site college fair included representatives from Wesleyan and Boston Universities; Holy Cross, Western New England, Wheaton, Bates, and Quinnipiac Colleges; and West Point Military Academy.

Seeing the Broadway production of In the Heights, an award-winning musical about the Washington Heights, N.Y. community was a highlight, students noted, and keynote speaker’s Pedro Noguera’s talk inspired them to think about effecting change. The Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, Mr. Noguera is an urban sociologist whose scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment. 

The conference helped the students in their formulation of an “action plan” that will strive to close the achievement gap by working with their peers, the district, and the community at large.

“The MSAN Student leaders and I are working hard to put our action plan into place,” said Ms. Keel. “We have begun to implement various aspects of the plan and are looking forward to making a difference in the school and in the community. Also working with us will be high school science teacher Joy Barnes-Johnson and Assistant Principal Harvey Highland.’

Praising the students for their eloquence and strength, Ms. Wilson commented that it was, perhaps, the best action plan she’d seen from an MSAN group. Board member Walter Bliss described it as a “phenomenal presentation,” and a “great” action plan. “These are issues we’ve been talking about for years,” he observed, particularly lauding their interest in assuming leadership positions at school.

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