If there is one benefit to the School District firing of Saul Yanofsky, the District Forums focusing on what the district needs in a new Superintendent of Schools have revealed there is much work to be done in the fields Dr. Martin Luther King concentrated his efforts for equality. WPCNR learned this at Centro Hispano at St. Bernards Church last Sunday, the Bethel Baptist Church last Wednesday, and the PTA Council last Thursday evening here in White Plains.
It should be remembered this week, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood for the rights of children to go to school and to receive equal education. It should be remembered that Dr. King stood for equal employment opportunity. It should be remembered that he stood for non-violence. It should be remembered that he preached about the good in all races and how deep down every person, white, black, or whatever wished for the same things for their children: an equal chance for happiness. Dr. King made the individual responsible for their own actions in an open environment.
Wednesday we learned things have changed, and have not changed.
Last Wednesday, about 250 persons, African-Americans, Hispanics, some Asians, some Hispanics, and some Caucasions, expressed their concerns at Bethel Baptist Church to Dr. Deborah Raizes and Dr. Diana P. McCauley, consultants hired by the School District. The two consultants have been hired to conduct a Superintendent of Schools search, and were gathering input about the strengths of the White Plains City School District and the what characteristics different segments of the community want to see in a new Superintendent of Schools. They got an earful.
WORKING THE ROOM, Dr. Deborah Raizes, (with clipboard, standing in aisle), of Hazard,Young Attia & Associates, consulting firm hired by the school district to find another Superintendent of Schools, takes comments from the overflow crowd at Bethel Baptist Church January 16, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Photo by WPCNR
What emerged was a consensus of sobering evaluation, self-criticism about their own family efforts, concern about instructor attitudes towards the potential of minority students, an alleged willingness by administrators to classify minorities for Special Classes, and an alleged failure to educate the brightest minority students.
Clergy submits letter
The Concerned Clergy introduced a letter documenting their concerns for education of minority students. The letter had six main points as to what the White Plains minority clergy wanted in a new superintendent:
1. The clergy felt that “overall the person (new superintendent) needs to have experience to deal with a diverse district.
2. “The courage to stand up to the PTA and the Teachers Union to advocate for our children.”
3.”To let us know what their vision is, and be willing to fight for that vision.”
4. “A level playing field competing for Honors Courses,”
5. “Support for Special Programs, and not just fill them up with African-American Children,”
6. And the need for more black male teachers.
Other comments were made by parents (who were teachers themselves), made much of what they feel is a double standard exhibited towards minority students by teachers, that minorities cannot learn, with a tendency to move minorities very quickly into special education classes.
The prevailing attitude WPCNR heard was not anger. It was not resentment. It was of parents presenting the situation as they saw it. A feeling of pathos, of wondering how the district can change this hung over the hall by the conclusion.
PROMISING TO BRING THEIR CONCERNS TO THE BOARD, a determined Dr. Deborah Raizes, addresses the Bethel Baptist crowd at the conclusion of last Wednesday’s meeting. Dr. Raizes and Dr. Diane McCauley who handled the Bethel meeting with her, told WPCNR that the White Plains attendances at the Bethel Baptist and Centro Hispano forums were the largest they have experienced in their superintendent searches for Hazard Young Attia. Raizes said the White Plains concern and interest was the most participatory and concerned of any superintendent search she has ever conducted. Photo by WPCNR
A national problem?
The perception, and apparent reality that African-American and Hispanic students who are serious students are not achieving, is not new, and certainly not new with White Plains. It is happening elsewhere too.
We spoke to a veteran teacher in the Montclair, New Jersey, School District over the weekend, because Montclair is a similar community to White Plains with a large African-American minority. This source advised us that the inability of minorities to achieve high scores on SAT’s as their white classmates at similar academic achievement levels is being seen in Montclair, too. She advised us that the Montclair District found a “learning gap” exists in minority students which is documented as early as kindergarten.
As she put it, minority students arrive in kindergarten not having learned as much before schooling as their caucasian counterparts.
Gap does not close.
This “gap,” does not close over the school years. It is a gap that holds them back, whether this relates to the problem of families where both parents work, or there is only one parent, or broken families, or a language barrier, all these factors, our veteran teacher (who works with minority and majority students every school day), said factor into creating a learning gap.
Her district has documented that the minority children simply have not acquired as much knowledge going to preschool as the majority classmates.
It has been the experience in the Montclair School District that this “gap” does not close. Our teacher reports the district is still grappling with this problem.
Gap shows up in White Plains at high school level in honors courses.
In White Plains, evidence of this “gap” has recently surfaced in a study done involving advanced placement and tracked classes at White Plains High School. It was first voiced by Barbara Holland at the Bethel Baptist Church meeting last week. The concern was echoed by two minority members of the PTA Council meeting with Dr. Raizes on Thursday evening.
Ms. Holland, a former member of the school board raised this topic towards the end of the Bethel Baptist Church forum, by revealing a survey reported conducted by Assistant Principal for Special Programs and Services at White Plains High School, Narcita Medina. Ms. Medina is said to have reported the results of the survey to a meeting of the Miniority Student Achievement Network recently.(The White Plains School District has been a member of the network since 2000.
Minority students score significantly lower in advanced classes
Medina’s survey shows that African-American and Hispanic high school students in honors classes and advanced placement classes are scoringsignificantly lower than their white classmates on college SAT’s and Advanced Placement tests among students in the same classes. Hearing this, as a reporter, I found this disturbing.
Concern echoed at PTA Council
Two minority parents on the PTA Council forum also raised the concern the next night. One young mother whose daughter is five, was concerned that though her daughter is achieving now, will she continue to achieve, given this apparent “gap” affecting minorities?
LISTENING TO THE PTA, Dr. Raizes hears of the strengths of the district from 30 PTA representatives and interested parties. Attendance for the forums was approximately 25 for the first forum, 5 for the Friday the 11th, Forum, over 200 each at the Centro Hispano and Bethel Baptist forums, and 8 on the Wednesday afternoon forum for community organizations.Photo by WPCNR
There were many strengths of the district voiced during that PTA Council forum, which we will report in due course, so many, in fact that there is no reason to think White Plains and its new superintendent can move to address this apparent underachievement by the minority population with a community effort.
PTA representative after PTA representative listed the strengths of the White Plains school district: that we were the first with a school choice program. That we introduced Learning Studies two decades ago, among others. Now, the district faces a new challenge.
It is well to remember Dr. King’s message.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 34 years after his death, things have changed, but they have not changed enough. Educational opportunity, personal effort, individual responsibility are still the keys to minority success. Two minority personalities pictured in stride with Dr. King on the front page of The Journal News today, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, are African-Americans Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be proud to have by his side.
We all should raise our personal level of activitism to look within, instead of wanting the system to change for us and make things better. The system should change, but it is a two-way street. We all have to work for change and buy into it to change ourselves, another Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge.
That’s what I remember most about Dr. King. He reached me with the simple rationality and truth of his message. The new Superintendent of Schools and the School Board need to address and respond to this minority community that sees this problem and has brought it to our attention. They indicated Wednesday evening they had to look within and do a better job with focusing their children and called for the School District to do a better job of treating their children equally.