Tuesday, February 12, 2008

President Myles' address to USD259 on Equity, Diversity, and the School Bond issue

Last night, I addressed the School Board about the need for structural and policy changes to support diversity and equity post-busing. Below, I've posted a copy of my remarks...


President Dietz, Members of the Board, and Superintendent Brooks…

We are here to discuss two of the most pertinent issues facing this board. Diversity & Equity

Your vote last week to end Busing for Desegregation may well turn out to be the most consequential act of each of your tenures. And while the consequences may ultimately be positive or negative, one thing is for certain; and that is that there will be consequences.

But before I go any further, I would like to take a moment and address a couple issues and statements I’ve heard of late. It has become fashionable of late to talk about busing as though it didn’t work; or at least as though it was a ‘relic of a time long since past.’

Some members of the Board and the Administration have publicly described busing as something that had “outlived its usefulness”; and certainly something far less important than our new favorite buzzword: “Choice”.

Now certainly as Educators and Administrators, I would not presume to give you a history on Desegregation, but for the benefit of those who came late to the discussion, I’d like to note that Busing was never envisioned as the final solution. Busing wasn’t even the recommendation of the Wichita NAACP. Busing was merely a strategy employed to combat much larger issues. Those being Equity & Diversity.

Some members of the board have noted that Busing didn’t close the Achievement Gap. Well, it’s equally worth noting that Busing was never designed to close the Gap. If anything, we should be appreciative of the fact that it was this effort, this campaign for equity and diversity that revealed the Achievement Gap and placed the issue on our collective radars, because as long as our schools were separate, we didn’t track or measure the comparative progress of all of our children.

The progress we’ve made did not come in spite of Desegregation efforts, it came because of Desegregation. It was only through our efforts to address Diversity that we became aware of not only Structural, but systematic and instructional inequities as well.

But Now Busing has ended… You’ve taken the bold step of eliminating the Strategy… But we come here tonight to ask, what we will do now to address the substantive underlying issues.

You have proposed that an Oversight Committee be formed to monitor the district's performance on the issues of diversity and equity. We believe the oversight committee is a great idea, however we know that a oversight advisory committee alone will be vastly insufficient to shape the district's responses to the challenges that lie ahead.

A group of volunteers with no real power to affect policy or make change can not be held accountable for the condition of our schools.

In taking the vote to end our diversity program, you each, personally assumed a degree of responsibility for the outcomes. Some even took what I thought was a remarkable step of congratulating themselves on the accomplishment as though all the problems were solved and a long fought ‘battle had somehow been won’. So while we are supportive of the formation of an advisory committee, we are here to say that we recognize that committees alone are not enough. .
We’ve been down this road before… and we have had some experience with District Advisory Committees. We came to the Board with specific recommendations to close the Achievement Gap, which were the result of three years of collaborative work between community organizations. Our recommendations, which you adopted, were never fully implemented. They were never written into policy; what we got… was a committee.

When Hope Street Youth Development came to the board with the issues of disproportionate Suspensions and Expulsions, no new policies were written, the issue was instead deferred to a committee.

When the African American Parent Support Group came with it’s recommendations, they were taken under advisement to be discussed between various committees.

The issues of diversity and equity are too important to our children for us to defer the issue to just another advisory committee. Ending Busing will only be the first of a series of very difficult decisions this Board must now face.

  • The District I Board of Education (BOE) member, Betty Arnold is recommending that in addition to having an oversight committee, a paid staff position should be created to oversee diversity, quality education, etc. We wholeheartedly support this recommendation and will ask the other Board members for their support as well. We made a similar recommendation in the 4-point plan to eliminate the Achievement Gap which was adopted, but never fully implemented.
  • We will also restate our position that if we are to ensure diversity and equity, then we need to go back to the map and redraw our neighborhood school boundaries. I brought up the issue of redrawing boundaries for Diversity during the Busing Task Force meeting, and while the idea was discussed favorably during those meetings, we’ve now heard how difficult it would be and that limited boundary changes for Stuckey and Heights may be warranted. But we are asking for more than that. We would like you as a board to work towards redrawing boundaries (which would address overcrowding issues) but also with a specific eye towards addressing diversity. Doing so would be a win-win.
  • We also ask that you draft specific policy that speaks directly to the issue of equity in teachers, resources, and facilities. The number of highly qualified teachers and the average levels of experience within each school should be monitored and there should be some safeguards against any school falling behind the others in these categories.
And lastly, with regard to the proposed $350,000,000.00 bond issue… I don’t want to blindside you, so I’m here to let you all know our position.
We know and believe, that your budget reflects your priorities. You fund and spend money on those things you consider to be important. Just days ago, You each took what will likely be the most consequential vote of each of your tenures… and now you’ve come forth with a $350,000,000.00 plan for school improvements to athletic fields and swimming pools, but when it comes to the issues of Diversity and Equity, the only specific policy initiative you’re offering is just another committee.
Sure the plan calls for the construction of some new schools, but diversity and equity are more than just having a seat for every child; its about having a seat for every child in front of a highly qualified and experienced teacher, with high expectations, a challenging curriculum, and a positive learning environment.
Sure the plan calls for the upgrading of some existing schools in the Northeast, But Diversity and Equity are about more than just Bricks and Mortar; in addition to having the exterior being structurally sound, we want the interior to be INstructionally sound.

So we would like to state for the record, that while we support the goals of the proposed Bond issue, Our support or opposition to the Bond will be directly linked to the degree to which Diversity and Equity are built into the plan, the willingness of the board to develop and implement prescient policies to safeguard our vision and commitment, and our willingness to think outside of the box to create positive change, now and not later. We don’t want to wait until the bond is passed and the work is underway, to come to you with recommendations only to be told that there is no more money and no more will. Now is the time to move from “Promises” to “Policies”

We have come before you many times before. When we recommend Positions – there’s never enough money… When we recommend Policy – there’s never enough political will...

But we know budgets reflect priorities, and we want Diversity and Equity to become Priorities for this district. So we can not support a major $350,000,000.00 bond issue and facilities plan unless it reflects these values and these priorities.

Now I know I’ve said a mouthful, but I want to close by saying that, we are not coming to you tonight as Adversaries… We are here only as Advocates… We are here because we care deeply about the future of our children as you do… and we can not and will not stand to see them fall back into the traps we once escaped.

Thank you for your time...

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Eddie G. Griffin February 12, 2008 at 2:44 PM  

I believe that when we achieve parity in educational resources, we can return to community schools and do away with busing (which represents $ millions in our budget). After all, busing began as an attempt to make all things equal in education.

Marilynn February 12, 2008 at 7:21 PM  

Our President (Kevin Myles) is right on target with identifying what the Board has not done to help the community so why should we have any faith in what is being proposed now? The only way to ensure parity and equity across the board is to give each school the same amount of money to develop/redevelop plans for their students academic success--its simple--anything less will result in the return separate and unequal!

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