University of Missouri professor LaGarrett King has officially joined the Boonville School District’s diversity task force. The task force, which started this year, aims to close achievement gaps between different student demographic categories. Its mission is to raise awareness of educational gaps and student needs, create an open dialogue, engage the community to find solutions, take ownership of educating all students, bridge the achievement gap among all groups and develop community strategies to prepare youth to be productive citizens.

“I’m interested in understanding Boonville’s process with this,” King said. “I really appreciate the school having this, and I wanted to help out.”

King, who received his doctorate from the University of Texas after an eight-year teaching career, now serves as an professor of social studies education. His research focuses on how black history is taught in schools as well as critical theories of race, teacher education and curriculum history.

The task force started meeting on a regular basis in October. The group will continue to meet on a monthly basis during the summer, and the next meeting will be on June 12.

“We’re looking at engaging the community as a huge priority,” said Dr. Sarah Marriott, assistant superintendent. “We’re trying to close that achievement gap that comes with cultural and economic diversity.”

Only 14 percent of Boonville students are a non-white, but 80 percent of the district qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

“Sometimes students come to school with a lot of unmet needs, and we want to make sure that we’re handling them as well as possible,” Marriott said.

King will begin membership this summer and continue through the next school year.

“I’m really excited to be learning about the community and the efforts already in place,” he said.

The task force held its first public event in April. During this “Building Bridges Brunch” members of the public were encouraged to share their proposed solutions to problems facing the school district.

“Not everyone agrees, but we’re having very civil and respectful conversations and I think that’s something to be proud of,” said Marriott.