Fighting the Gap: Creating a Model Where Children Can Thrive

Decades ago, the United Negro College Fund coined the saying “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Locally, it’s an open secret that Asheville has been fighting an academic achievement gap between black and white children for decades. Sadly, our city now has the highest gap of any district in the state of North Carolina.

During the 2017 school year, only 21.5% of black third graders in Asheville City Schools were grade-level proficient in reading compared to 86.4% of white third graders ( What can be done to reverse this trend? New City Christian School is on a quest for answers to this daunting issue.

This small, private elementary school was founded in 2006 in response to this persistent community problem. The mission of New City is to equip students with knowledge, confidence, and hope.

Founder Coral Jeffries explains it this way: “Some have called the current educational crisis the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. The public schools have been given an impossible mission, to provide all things for all students but with limited resources and autonomy for doing so. It is inevitable that some students will fall through the cracks. Why not work toward creating a model where those children can also thrive? All of us have a stake in doing what it takes to turn this situation around.”

After 12 years of working in pursuit of this goal, New City has made enormous progress, and the results are striking. Last year at New City, 88% of students in grades 2 through 5 were at or above grade level in reading, and 92% were at or above grade level in math, as measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Achievement, a nationally normed test used by many top-tier private schools.

What are the factors that have made New City’s approach so effective? Jeffries esplains, “Each element in our mission statement is critical. We have worked hard to research what kind of curriculum is effective in working with children who may enter kindergarten underprepared. Those are the approaches we use. In addition, we keep our class sizes small so our students are not only taught but also known, mentored, and challenged to achieve to their highest potential. We also believe that a spiritual framework brings a sense of hope and purpose to the process of learning.

“Our students are smart and capable of going far beyond what they are able to imagine. We want to equip and encourage them so they can recognize their strengths and abilities. Then they can take the next steps forward.”

New City’s private education is possible for families of limited means, only, says Jeffries, “through an extraordinary network of individual donors and partners who see the value of this work and yearn to see all children in our community with good options for the future. We have both majority black and majority white churches in Asheville that support the school, as well as individuals and businesses that take this issue very seriously and are willing to give both resources and time to the mission of New City.

“We recognize that our City schools have a really hard job and also do great work,” he continues. “We are trying to do our part by using our independence to be creative in looking for solutions so that all children are well served.”

Families are required to contribute a portion of their child’s tuition, but the school is determined to make that amount affordable for all, regardless of family income.

In 2014 a bipartisan group of North Carolina legislators developed the Opportunity Scholarship Program to expand school choice in the state. Similar programs in other states have met with great success in allowing parents to explore alternative educational options for their children, particularly those attending poorly performing schools. Proponents of the program see it as a way to help level the playing field by helping lower-resourced families explore options that have traditionally not been possible due to cost.

Opportunity Scholarships provide funding of up to $4,200 per year for eligible children who enroll in a participating nonpublic school. Children must be entering kindergarten or first grade or transferring directly from a public school to be eligible. The scholarship is available only to families who meet income requirements.

For more information, call New City Christian School at (828) 252-8173 or visit