Guest Columnist

Lasting reflections of Cedar Rapids

Executive Director of Middle Schools for the Cedar Rapids Community School Disctrict Dr. Carlos Grant introduces himself as he sits on a panel during a session on
Executive Director of Middle Schools for the Cedar Rapids Community School Disctrict Dr. Carlos Grant introduces himself as he sits on a panel during a session on "Reaching All Students" at the Iowa Ideas conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in downtown Cedar Rapids on Thursday, September 20, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Since I arrived in Cedar Rapids in the summer 2014, my leadership experiences have evolved. As a former principal of Metro High School and Washington High School, as well as being the executive director of middle schools, I have gained great joy in helping shape the lives of young people in Cedar Rapids. My mother’s health and the obligations as the oldest sibling is calling me back home to South Carolina. As I transition into a new leadership role, I want to impart my lasting reflections.

Cedar Rapids has a rich history of educational excellence that should be celebrated and acknowledged. Even so, we are setting our sights on continued improvement with a strong emphasis on student learning efforts. I am proud of the continued work occurring to build capacity for differentiated learning experiences that will better prepare students for “Future Ready” success. There is a strategic and forward-thinking mind-set that exists in CRCSD. There’s also a clear intentional movement around bringing high quality, excellent education to this state through the creation and implementation of innovative and results-driven schools.

However, as fierce education advocates, we must challenge the landscape of education in Iowa. There is great room to deliver on this promise for all. For example, our student achievement data indicates we have great variance in student performance in our middle schools at the state and district levels. At the state level, Iowa currently ranks 26th out of 52 states and territories in reading proficiency according to the 2017 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) for all students. However, when broken down by demographic subgroup, Iowa ranks 52nd out of 52 states and territories in performance of African American students in 4th grade reading. Within our school district context, only 66 percent of our middle school students are proficient readers as measured by the Iowa Assessment in the 2017-2018 school year. In addition, disparities between demographic groups are very substantial. Specifically, there is a 39 percent achievement gap between white and black students as well as a 19 percent gap between white and Hispanic students. Thanks to the middle school principals who are empowered to change this reality. This particular team has partnered with the Iowa Reading Research Center to build knowledge about adolescent literacy.

We must all fundamentally believe that all students deserve the chance to achieve academic excellence, a foundation to succeed, a safe and collaborative environment, challenging academic and leadership opportunities, and the support from community partners. This mind-set is required to put us on the path to ensure that our scholars grow into adults that have achieved academic excellence, developed citizenship skills, and to promote self-discipline as a way of life.

I firmly believe that we must prepare students for postsecondary readiness. We also have a responsibility to prepare citizens with the ability to thrive in this world. I take solace in knowing that there are those that take on the personal mission to reverse the systematic cycles of poverty and systemic racism which is the source of many societal ills. It is truly life or death for many of our students in this country, and I believe that education is the new currency. My purpose in life is to stand in the gap for our children and prevent systemic failures from giving them high level access to opportunities.

I also champion the revitalized efforts of CRCSD to foster outcomes based community partnerships that provide support services for at-risk students. The funding for these efforts comes directly from the State of Iowa. CRCSD has a limited amount of funding to help offset the cost of priority services for at-risk students, which requires submission of a proposal that demonstrates strong outcomes and alignment with the district strategic plan. There is a hyperfocus on assessing these partnership programs to meet the State of Iowa’s standards for “quality before and after school programs.”

I appreciate the people that have enriched my life and who have also trusted me in this crazy pursuit of equitable instruction for all children. I equally appreciate those that have not yet seen the importance of this vision. Their steadfastness to maintain a failed status quo helps fuel my fire as well as those that are strong advocates for justice. Thank you to the City of Five Seasons for giving me the strength, additional reasons, conviction, and permission to fight on behalf of our babies!

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• Carlos Grant has served as the executive director for middle schools within the Cedar Rapids Community School District. He is leaving Cedar Rapid to become principal of Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, SC.

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