Woman assigned to correct educational inequities in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

In Black and White

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Effie McMillian came to North Carolina A&T State University with her eyes on becoming a surgical nurse.

“Something just kept tugging me back to the education world,” McMillian said.

That tug to a new major gave her new purpose and now has her in a new role developed last year in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools: Executive Director of Equity, Access, and Acceleration Effie McMillian.

“The real focus of my role and one of the reasons the office started is to really focus on student achievement and closing opportunity gaps and focusing on the achievement gap,” she said.

McMillian said she was able to visit around 60 schools before the COVID-19 shutdown. She says what she found on that tour was glaring inequity in resources at some schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, and disparities in access to advanced placement courses.

“For example, you may go to some schools where there’s a high majority-minority population and there’s a limited number of AP courses that students can take where you might go to another school and there are multiple AP courses that are offered,” McMillian said.

Equity is her goal. Helping the district achieve it is her role, no matter the students’ zip code, gender, or race.

“I just think it’s important across the board and I think as educators we have a responsibility to make sure we are really providing as many opportunities as possible for students to really give them a fair shot at being able to be successful in life,” McMillian said.

Whether that’s through higher-level classes, or career and technical education programs. Part of her job is to help guide the district’s efforts to make sure the curriculum keeps up with culture.

“We’re rolling out a new curriculum and we want to make sure that curriculum is culturally responsive and that we are engaging students in a meaningful way to raise achievement across the board,” McMillian said.

In 2019, the WSFCS Board of Education rejected a proposal to create a mandatory African American history course, instead calling on the superintendent to strengthen efforts that were already in place.

“Even though it did not pass to have a mandatory African American history course, an African American history course is being designed for high schools. African American history, LatinX history, and American Indian history are all being designed by our social studies department,” McMillian said.

Those classes will be in all high schools. She said the social studies department is also working on new culturally-responsive units to incorporate into social studies lessons for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“The value of that is students should be learning history throughout and not just waiting until middle school or high school,” McMillian said. “But starting early so that they can begin to delve deeper and have a greater understanding, also to be able to hear different perspectives and to be able to talk about those different perspectives and to help them to help to set it in present context so they understand the history and see the path that has led us to this point.”

McMillian says the most immediate equity challenge in the district is ensuring every student has access to all the technology to be able to do any online learning the district continues in the fall.

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