by Melia LaCour
“Imagine this: our African American males graduate “Seattle Ready;” they are competitive in their [chosen] field; they’re self-actualized; they know who they are; they’re civic minded and full-fledged citizens of Seattle. Can you see that?”
This question, posed by Brent Jones, Seattle Public Schools’ Chief of Strategies and Partnerships, invited participants at last Thursday’s African American Advisory Committee (AAMAC) Community Forum at Nova High School to embrace a vision for black male scholars that has been long overdue: an assured, clear pathway to thriving success.
This vision describes the ideals held by the AAMAC and the purpose for the forum. An off-shoot of the district’s African American Think Tank, the mission of the committee is to “provide guidance on how to best transform our educational systems so that we are ensuring educational excellence for all students, particularly our African American Males.” Over the past year, the committee has been hard at work creating specific recommendations for improving educational outcomes for African American males.
The forum provided the committee an opportunity not only to introduce their work, but to receive community feedback on the recommendations to the Superintendent. These recommendations, fortified by the evening’s community input, will serve as the district’s roadmap for closing opportunity gaps for black boys.
Superintendent Nyland kicked off the event with the stark necessity of the AAMAC’s work. “We have large and unacceptable opportunity gaps for our students of color, particularly our black boys,” he stated. The data he spoke of is widely known. Last year, Seattleites were presented with the heart-breaking reality that the district, when compared nationally, has the 5th largest academic achievement gap in the nation between black and white students.
“We want to own the data, be responsible for the data and we want to be the learners as adults in the system and figure out how to do better.” Nyland went on to share that white 3rd grade girls are four times more likely to be proficient than black 3rd grade boys. “That’s a huge gap. It’s the issue of our time. We have got to find ways to do better.”
After Nyland shared the context for the event, spoken word artists and graduating seniors, King Cobb, of Cleveland High School and Solomon Bishop of Garfield, gave voice to the painful realities of the black male experience in Seattle while underscoring the critical need for AAMAC’s work. Each described the daily struggle to achieve their dreams despite their fear amidst police profiling and brutality. “How much longer do we really have to suffer from this pain?” spoke King Cobb.
Fueled to create transformational change, participants were then given an opportunity to review and provide feedback on the AAMAC’s recommendations generated by their five subcommittees: Attendance, College and Career Readiness, Community Partnerships, Family Engagement and Policy and Practice. “We need their help,” said Community Partnerships Committee member, Daryl Russell, “We have to work together to make this work.”
Brad Fulkerson, Program Manager of Attendance and member of the Attendance Subcommittee was also in agreement with the value of community feedback. “We really want to understand the issue. What are the real barriers to attendance? We want to build relationships so students are noticed by teachers, the lunch ladies, the bus drivers when they are not at school.”
Family Engagement Subcommittee member, Emijah Smith knows first-hand about the powerful level of influence that parents can have on the district. “Emijah changed our dialogue about how we talk about gaps in the district,” Jones stated. He shared that the district’s language changed from “closing” to “eliminating” opportunity gaps after Smith challenged the Assistant Superintendent on behalf of her African American sons. “Parents are core,” Smith said, “they are our co-partners. Stay engaged, even when schools make it difficult.” She also shared that she is most excited about the recommendation that states, “every African American student and/or family is warmly welcomed to school every day.” “This is like nothing I have ever seen before. It can finally hold schools accountable.”
“We want people to be involved,” added Rodney Jones. He also advised community members to directly support our kids. “Take time out to speak to a child. Find out what’s on their mind. Some of the greatest mathematicians and scientists are here in the hood. They’re just not being cultivated.”
Though most of the recommendations are new, the committee aimed to ensure the recommendations could be connected to existing district policies and structures. “Why reinvent the wheel?” posed AAMAC Policy and Practice Subcommittee member, Sean Connor. He shared, for example, that although the district adopted the “Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity Policy” in 2012, equity efforts taking place in the district were not aligned and communication about the policy has been poor. “There was some work being done in the district but it wasn’t connected to this group or the policy, which makes no sense. We want to create tactics to align with the policy.”
Fellow subcommittee member, James Johnson added, “Folks put a lot of effort into making a policy and now it needs to be operationalized. We haven’t had good implementation, tracking and measurement. These have been missing pieces. This will give us information about how to improve.”
Gerald Donaldson, Family Support Worker at Leschi Elementary and AAMAC member, expressed his excitement about the significant impact this work could have when expanded to elementary school. “Just imagine if we supported kids at the elementary level? We could eliminate discipline problems.”
As the forum ended, Jones shared the committee’s important next steps. The feedback received at the forum will be reviewed and incorporated during July and August, followed by a commitment to present the final recommendations to the Superintendent in September and begin operationalizing in the Fall.
“Let’s go forward with the mindset that we want to edify these young men, all the way through. Starting in kindergarten and moving all the way through,” Jones said in closing. “That’s the image we want to have right now. Self-actualized young men.”
More information about the AAMAC can be obtained here as well as by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melia LaCour is the Executive Director of Equity in Education at Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD). The opinions expressed reflected in this article do not reflect the opinions of the PSESD. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied in this article.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Java Colleen/via Flickr