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Berkeley school adviser sees gains, and opportunities lost

May 17, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

A sure sign that Brown v. Board of Education has finally achieved its desired result will be when Lynne Gober goes looking for a new job.

But for now, the Sharpsburg resident said, "we still have a way to go in educating students" about the landmark court desegregation decision and the opportunities it provided.

Though her children attend Washington County schools, Gober serves as diversity facilitator for Berkeley County Schools in West Virginia. In that position, she plans and manages programs designed to educate minority students about the opportunities available to them.

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"Brown allowed us to have access to everything," she said in a recent interview. "We have to take advantage of it. ... Brown opened up a lot of opportunities, but a lot of people have gotten off the bandwagon."

Gober said opportunities mean nothing if people don't take advantage of them.

Thanks to Brown, she said, segregation no longer is institutional. But if students and their families don't act, differences between the races will remain.

"Parents must get involved," Gober said. "They must expose children to opportunities early."

For her own educational opportunities, she said, "I had to make sacrifices - you can't just depend on the schools. I can't say that white people held me back from getting a doctorate; I just didn't go for it."

In Berkeley County, there is an achievement gap between minority students and white students, Gober said. Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon has recognized the gap and is working to close it, she said.

"The superintendent wants adequate achievement for every student," she said.

To that end, Gober has organized a number of activities to acquaint minority students and their families with available opportunities, from a minority college fair to a conference earlier this spring titled "Got Change?" that marked the 50th anniversary of Brown with discussions on how the decision changed the face of education for minority students.

While there's no diversity facilitator in Washington County public schools, there is a new Minority Achievement Task Force. Its first meeting is scheduled at 5 p.m. today, Deputy Superintendent Patricia Abernethy said. She and community leader Frank Brooks will co-chair the group.

Beyond physical desegregation, the goal is to desegregate achievement levels, Abernathy said. To do so, performance of all students in the system will be compared to national and state averages. School officials will then take action to bring all student performance to satisfactory levels.

"Brown v. Board of Education established the fact that children cannot be excluded from quality education," Abernethy said. "I think Maryland has been ahead of the game" by desegregating scores.

The No Child Left Behind Act, the federal initiative for improving student achievement, addresses achievement at all levels, Abernethy said. It brings equality to the next level, she said.

Where the Brown ruling guaranteed equal access to education, No Child Left Behind attempts to improve student achievement in all student populations .

"That includes students with poverty backgrounds, students with limited English, students with disabilities - any of them could be a minority," Abernethy said.

School officials are looking at all the data - national and state statistics - and will be going "school by school, classroom by classroom" to determine how to help all students reach a high level of proficiency, she said.

While physical segregation no longer is institutional, some Washington County schools have higher-level minority students than others. In all, the student population in county schools is 87 percent white, according to figures from the Maryland State Department of Education.

"Certainly you will find geographical segregation in Washington County," Abernethy said. "But regardless of geography, every school will have a chance to perform."

Schools in which students aren't performing as well will get more attention, she said.

"We assume education is multicultural; we put that into our curriculum and we try to hire people that reflect the culture," Abernethy said.

"We're doing well in some areas and not so well in others," she said. She declined to elaborate before tonight's meeting because she still was reviewing materials.

Nevertheless, she said, "I think our master plan addresses every issue of closing the gap. It's a road map for each child to be successful."

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