Over 40% of the African American students in San Diego City Schools were below standard at several grade levels in English/Language arts and Math on state tests this past school year. Why? What is being done about it? What is the superintendent’s response to the Association of African American Educators (AAAE) who are seeking information and asking some direct questions?
The school district response has been to stonewall AAAE and provide limited information on how the district is responding to the achievement levels of African American and African students (AAS). AAAE requests for in depth information on AAS achievement were met with a response from the school district’s attorney, who first told AAAE it would take 12 weeks to get the information they requested under the public records access act. At the end of that twelve weeks, the attorney said another eight weeks were needed. What are they hiding, or failing to admit? It may be that there is no district plan or intent to explicitly address the educational needs of African American and African students.
BACKTRACKING OF THE SUPERINTENDENT
This superintendent’s chief of staff has said that they do not believe in focusing on specific groups, and their efforts will be on what is needed by all students. And in line with that 1950’s thinking, they have refused to fully include the Blueprint to Accelerate the Achievement of African/African American Students into district functioning, which the San Diego Board of Education passed 5-0 in 2011.
The current Superintendent, Cindy Marten, says the Blueprint was not approved as board policy. Why was there a need for the board to vote if it wasn’t something they agreed should be incorporated into district functioning and which their superintendent at the time helped to create? The history of how the Blueprint was finalized includes the prominent role played by the most previous superintendent, Bill Kowba, who personally chaired the district Blueprint Task force meetings. Now, the current board, led by Richard Barrera and Superintendent Cindy Marten, are back tracking by refusing to provide data to AAAE on what, if any, progress has been made related to Blueprint objectives or activities. It may be because there has been no effort and therefore no progress related to the Blueprint.
Why else would the district stall since August in responding to the formal/legal data requests of AAAE? Ms. Marten has also begun to seek other individuals in the Black community to talk to about the education of African American students as an alternative to meeting with the Blueprint Taskforce. She has stopped any meetings with AAAE, claiming she was no longer meeting with various community constituencies, but was found to still be meeting with some other community groups. This is a blatant refusal to meet with the organization that six previous superintendents in SDSUD have partnered with since its founding in 1983.
THE GAP BETWEEN THE RHETORIC AND REALITY
This isn’t the first time AAAE has taken strong exception to district policies or how they are implemented, and not the first time AAAE has protested and lobbied for more social justice for African American students and employees in San Diego City Schools. It is the first time the district superintendent has refused to meet with AAAE to work together on what is needed in SDUSD. Superintendent Marten takes offense if AAAE takes strong exception to what she says or does, and has said as much.
AAAE has been persistent and unwavering in their determination to monitor what the district is doing or not doing to improve the achievement of African American and African students. This superintendent does not like that kind of scrutiny and very direct confrontation. She has not revealed how the district’s local control achievement plan (LCAP), required of all districts by the state of California, specifically addresses the academic and other educational needs of African American and African students as specified in the Blueprint. The LCAP has been very general when it comes to AAS, and programs responding to the needs of AAS. This enables the district to not be held accountable for what they say is being done to improve African American achievement.
There is a big difference between their rhetoric and reality. There are very little if any achievement gains in language arts and math for AAS since Ms. Marten became the Superintendent almost four years ago. She has changed her organizational structure 13 times in less than 4 years, creating no District-wide strategies to accelerate African and African American student achievement. That is because she has been very timid about changing the culture of the school district when it comes to race. The underlying philosophy that governs the district at this time, despite all the rhetoric, does not address the need for in-depth, ongoing, systemic attention to race and culture in the school district and its individual schools so that equitable achievement can happen for all student groups.
The climate for greater school district accountability for African American students will be greatly impacted by the current budget crisis and anticipated mass layoffs. That reality makes it even more important for the African American community to wake up, stand up, and be unapologetic in their efforts to make sure the needs of AAS are not forgotten or put at the bottom of school district priorities. We will not improve the future of our children if we don’t demonstrate the courage to confront the ways things are done that are not in our interest.
WHAT THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY MUST DO:
- Become involved by attending community meetings to get more information on the state of education for African American students;
Unite In this cause by having a core group of community organizations, such as the Urban League, the NAACP, the ACLU, etc. who, with AAAE, conduct these community meetings;
- AAAE united with other community organizations must hold press conferences;
- AAAE reps must get interviewed by persons in the news media and other social media
- When requested, the public must attend SDUSD board meetings in masses.
- AAAE, united with other community organizations, must hold rallies
- There must be public demonstrations at district board meetings, in front of the district office, and at other selected sites
- Articles regarding the status of African and African American student achievement must be submitted to news organizations in the Black community and to citywide news sources for their publication