Thursday, February 7, 2008

Your Presence is needed to show support for diversity and ensure equity in our schools

Please Plan to Attend:

To show your support, please attend the:

Board of Education Meeting: Monday, February 11, 2008
Time: 6:00 p.m. - Arrive by 5:40 p.m. for parking & seating.
Place: North High School - 1437 Rochester (by 13th & N. Waco)

Last week, USD259 voted to end it's busing for desegregation program. The plan had been in effect since 1971 and was implemented as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Wichita Branch NAACP under the leadership of then President Chester Lewis. Local Wichitan's and longtime readers of this blog know that the administration of USD259 had sought for a number of years to end the program, and that each year, the Branch would mount a strategic 'counter-campaign' to save it.

Many of you outside of Wichita may be surprised to learn that our program had survived this long, but that was a testament to the hard work and efforts of the volunteer members of our local branch. Over the last few years, our Branch (particularly the members of the Education committee) held forums, attended community meetings, passed out flyers, bought and supplied books and resource materials, gave radio and television interviews to support and maintain our districts desegregation efforts. We worked very hard for the cause of maintaining diversity within our schools, and each year, though our district's administration made clear their intent to end the program, we were able to rally public support and keep it in place.

This year was different. Bolstered by the recent decision of the Supreme Court, the district approached the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) once more, seeking to be released from our busing for desegregation program. We contacted OCR as we had in years past to state our position as representatives of the original plaintiffs in the suit that led to the creation of the plan. But while our fierce support of diversity in education never waivered, this campaign coupled with the recent Supreme Court decisions gave us a good opportunity to re-examine our strategy.

In reassessing our strategy it became clear that somehow along the way, we had allowed ourselves to slip into the role of defending the status quo. That was a tragic and inappropriate role for a watchdog/advocacy group because we were often placed in a position of defending a status quo that was in many respects inadequate. Our children have many educational issues and needs, but our ability to effectively advocate on their behalf was muted; it was difficult at times to fight for what we needed when we were fighting so hard to maintain what little we had. Like midshipmen aboard a leaky boat, so much of our time was devoted to fixing leaks, bailing water, and reassuring dissatisfied passengers, that little time was left for us to recognize or address the fact that our Sail was actually too small, our maps were outdated, and our Captain was asleep at the wheel. If for no other reason that this, we as a Branch needed to reposition ourselves so that we could become more effective in our role as advocates.
We had made it clear all along that we were never 'married' to busing; we viewed busing as a strategy, not a goal. But we were and remain completely committed to Diversity in Education, Educational Equity, High Expectations for all students, Challenging Curriculums, and having experienced highly qualified teachers for our children. We addressed the Board of Education during the 06 and 07 school years and acknowledged that we would be open to alternative plans as long as they provided for these things.
When the District voted to end busing, a plan was put forth that would (at least initially) address these issues. Additionally, a number of promises and commitments were made by members of the Board and the Administration regarding diversity and equity. However, while we believe the members of the Board to be sincere in their intent, we want to see these promises and commitments codified into district policy.
The district has 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. The District and administration may, at their discretion, delegate some degree of oversight and authority to an advisory committee, but they can NOT delegate their responsibility or their accountability.
In taking that vote to end the existing program they each, personally assumed responsibility for the outcomes. However, the issues of diversity and equity are so important to our children, that we can not simply allow them 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 the Board 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. The AAA neighborhood for student assignment purposes was defined by residential segregated housing patterns. To truly move beyond race in education, we should abandon the old 'Negro district' and develop new school boundaries using the same growth and capacity formula that we would use anywhere else in the city. We believe that if we all work together to reexamine school boundaries and determine how best to assign students, we can maintain diversity without forced busing.
  • We will ask that the District draft 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 we will also speak to the District's proposed $350,000,000.00 bond issue.
On Tuesday morning, following the Board meeting, I will post my comments to the board and their questions and reactions here on the blog. But in the interim, we asking that all who are able plan to attend and show your support for these efforts...
See you Monday!

1 Click HERE to POST or READ the latest comments!!!:

Bob February 8, 2008 at 1:02 PM  

I certainly hope the NAACP will speak against the proposed school bond issue. Its cost will be born proportionally greatest by poor people.

Further, the New Communities Initiative plan identifies lack of education as one of northeast Wichita's greatest problems. Do we not realize that these children who received poor educations, who didn't finish high school, who aren't prepared for college: they nearly all attended government schools. Granting more resources to a failing institution is not likely to produce good results.

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