The Oxford School District’s Board of Trustees met Monday evening for their regular meeting for the month of May to discuss end of the year recognitions and their system for disciplining younger students.

At the beginning of the meeting during awards and recognitions, Superintendent Brian Harvey awarded the title of Employee of the Year to John Davenport. The Oxford High School Theatre teacher recently wrapped up this 100th show with the school. Upon accepting a plaque from Harvey, Davenport thanked everyone at the meeting for being so supportive of him and his department all these years. He said there’s nowhere else in the world that could provide him the support and resources the way Oxford does, and for that he is forever grateful.

After nearly an hour of recognitions of students, coaches and school personnel, the board then opened the floor for public participation.

Barbara Phillips signed up before the meeting and was allotted 10 minutes to speak. Phillips addressed the board regarding the achievement gap in the district, and how those on the lower end of it are most likely to be students of color and/or at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Phillips stated that she was grateful for Harvey continually showing an interest in closing this gap. She noted, however, that she and her like-minded peers worry that it’s not enough. The school district continues to grow, maxing out at over 4,300 students this year, and not major change has happened. It’s concerning.

Though Oxford is the number one school district in the state, Phillips noted, the district has one of the “largest achievement gaps in the state between white students and literally everyone else.”

Phillips told the board that this is an urgent problem and should be treated as such. This isn’t something they should take their time with addressing.

“We seek to support this nobel mission of our school district,” Phillips said when ending her speech. “We ask that you create a task force representing all stakeholders in the district to find a solution that addresses everyone seeking to be served by the district.”

Burhanettin Keskin was the next person to speak. He’s an associate professor of early childhood education at the university. Keskin urged to the board to rethink the way they handle discipline with the younger students. Under the current system, students who are misbehaving are given a color or their name is displayed on a board in order to show the entire class that this particular child is doing what they’re supposed to. Keskin said he doesn’t believe the current system of publicly shaming misbehaving children is doing anyone any good. It’s dehumanizing.

Nicole Yenter then got up to address the board. She agreed with the previous speaker. Yenter works as a school counselor, and though she doesn’t work in the Oxford School District, she is part of the community there and plans to send her children there in the fall. She asked the board and teachers present to seriously consider publicly labeling kids as good or bad, and how that title will affect not only the way that child is perceived by other children, but how that child perceives themselves.

“That student will live up to the standard we hold them to,” Yenter told the board.

Sarah Moses addressed the board on the same subject. She is a professor of religion and philosophy at the university. Her son just completed his first year at the district she said she was looking forward to her daughter starting in the fall. But, like the other speakers, she is concerned with the way discipline is handled. She said she’s heard her child refer to children as good or bad based on how they’re labeled in the classroom, and that’s something that greatly concerns her.

Moses said that her son has shown increasing anxiety about what color he will be. Whether or not he will be able to maintain his status as a good child or if he will have an incident that earns him a reputation as a bad child. Moses said she did not think this to be the best method of disciplining children, and asked that the board take some time to examine the practice.

The last speaker was Lee Habib. He responded to Phillips’ statement to the board. He said the achievement gap in the district has nothing to do with race or economic situation, but other factors like home life and state of the family. Habib asked the board to consider allowing him to raise money to start a tutoring and mentorship program that would give young people the tools they need to succeed in a school setting. Twitter: @chaningthegreen

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