"The Most Powerful Pages on The Planet"
August 17, 2008
Volume 1 - No.13
Darwin Campbell, Executive Publisher
A Bi-Weekly Publication
Black Education in Crisis:
Strong Activism Key in Halting Erosion and Erasing of Vital Links to Black Pride, Traditions and History
Lone Star Power Pages
AUSTIN- Less than two years after the demise of the Wilmer Hutchins Independent District, African-American education across Texas is in crisis.
The Wilmer-Hutchins saga should have been the shot across the bow and set off alarms among Black leaders and a community that state education officials are in full attack mode against predominantly Black districts.
The apparent motives for these attacks appear to be to discredit and erase predominantly Black school boards, Black influence and Black leadership in those districts and sanitize significant and rich traditions and historical links to the African-American past in those schools. The big question is when will it stop and who will step up and say “No More”.
The Dallas Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency are using tactics to limit and sanitize the voice of tax paying citizens by ignoring their ideas, zeal and willingness to work for change.
In 2006, Wilmer Hutchins was hijacked with a hostile takeover that caused a coup that resulted in the board being upended, students being transferred to Dallas and the district being closed. Parents, citizens and activists voices and input was shut out of the debate.
TEA who ordered the district closed after years of financial trouble and academic issues.
Despite parents, teachers and community activist’s fight to express their ideas, opinions and desires to help the district, TEA did not listen and closed the door to communication and cooperation that could have made a difference.
WHISD was ranked "academically unacceptable" so the education agency exercised its authority to close Wilmer-Hutchins and have DISD absorb it.
In January 2007, Dallas ISD removed 5,000 boxes with more than one half million personal records from Wilmer-Hutchins schools and placed them in the DISD administration building. The district also removed the trophies, banners, and plaques from all the WHISD campuses and stored them – in essence erasing and cutting a key link to decades of Black pride, history and tradition in those communities.
That same pattern appears to be repeating itself and shaping up as the state has set its sights on DISD schools that it deems unacceptable and low performing – most in predominantly African-American communities.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and the board are concurring with TEA by failing to fight for its own constituents and targeting these Black districts by either scaling them back or making plans to close them altogether and bus children to other areas of the city.
These issues are further agitated by the board showing its ugly hands and intentions when it makes its decisions and fails to listen to the community and disregards the will of African-American and Hispanic parents and activists who live in the Spruce High School neighborhoods and want to work to improve academic scores and performance in their schools.
Despite concerned citizens, alumni and former students pleading with the board and standing up demanding to be heard and desiring to participate in cooperative changes and ideas, their input is not important enough for consideration and has been set aside.
Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and the board continue to press on with their agenda that does not include practicing democracy, encourage parent and community participation or take serious the desires and will of the people.
In predominantly Black East Waco, people are in a legal fight to save one of its African-American schools.
Despite making strides in improving test scores, the Waco Independent School District board of trustees voted to close G. L. Wiley Middle School and disperse African-American students to Brazos and Cesar Chavez middle schools and G.W. Carver Academy.
It is a move that disregards how it will disrupt the lives of hundreds of Black children and affect black pride and the school historic ties and links to the community.
Over 200 Wiley students, parents, teachers and community members appealed to the board on behalf of the school and shared its very important connection to the community.
Parents shared concerns about the issues involving shuffling their children off to a school that’s not in their neighborhood, while others argued with trustees about education and giving black children a chance to succeed- it fell on deaf ears.
The school, which has made significant gains in state test scores over the last five years, was issued a year reprieve by the commissioner of education Robert Scott before the state would have turned the school over to alternative management.
East Waco leaders have stressed the school’s improvement in recent years and also the commissioner’s own faith in the school’s ability to shake its “unacceptable” rating as reasons to keep the school open.
Trustees who voted for closure voiced a concern that, due to low enrollment, Wiley students are not being given all the opportunities that students at the other middle schools are getting.
One key thought came from a student, but fell on deaf ears – proving that even the passions and pride of young African-Americans for their own Black schools and traditions are overlooked and set aside by elected officials.
“We try so hard, but the district does nothing but knock us down,” said Wiley student Darious Wright. “The area we live in is bad enough, now we have to fight for our school?”
Trustee Alex Williams, who represents East Waco, said some of his own colleagues on the board simple doesn’t listen or understand the pride of the black community.
TEA is in the process of hijacking another district that could result in it shutting down in the near future.
Last month, Commissioner of Education Robert Scott announced the installation of a board of managers and a new superintendent in the North Forest Independent School District for the upcoming school year.
Scott said he was taking this action because of “the district’s extensive history of deficiencies, its recent significant problems and its current failure to consistently work cooperatively with the assigned management team.
The appointments of the new administrator and a three-member board, which will replace the current African-American school board, are pending preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice – a move that marked the beginning of the end for the old Black Wilmer Hutchins board and school district.
North Forest Independent School District is a predominately African-American school system, the ethnic makeup of the district is 77 percent African American; 22 percent Hispanic; .6 percent white; and .8 percent Asian.
The district operates six elementary schools, three middle schools, one high school and one career and technology school and is located in the northeast section of Harris County.
The commissioner is hopeful that the board of managers will stabilize and improve the district’s situation so that closure is not necessary.
According to a TEA report, TEA’s recent review of the district’s special education program found substantial noncompliance. Another review disclosed a failure to implement program requirements of the No Child Left Behind program.
The district’s two high schools have struggled academically for multiple years and received the state’s lowest rating, Academically Unacceptable.
The instability of the school board remains a chronic problem for the district. Due to the financial problems and declining enrollments, schools were closed as a cost saving measure.
In March 2007, the school board terminated the superintendent and paid him $233,000 in severance pay and twice tried to rehire this superintendent but that a TEA conservator overruled action.
The district is expected to start the new school year with an $11.8 million budget deficit. And will not be able to sustain itself financially at its current taxing rate.
During the last school year, North Forest was unable to meet payroll using appropriate funding sources and it cannot reconcile its bank statements and has been denied short-term bridge loans by several banks. The district’s bond rating has also been downgraded.
“It’s unfortunate that this drastic action is necessary,” Scott said. “We have tried every intervention at our disposal except this one. While our management team and agency employees have helped the district cut its deficit and improve its academic performance, the district remains in a very precarious position. It is necessary for the Texas Education Agency to place a superintendent and board in the district to safeguard the educational environment for students.”
What is necessary is for African-Americans to wake up and reclaim our pride, history and traditions.
Our dependence on “status quo” public education has lulled us into a mindset that “big brother” knows best, but the end result in Texas has been low achievement, high drop our rates, increase prison populations and closed schools.
A board of managers can remain in place for up to two years. Under state law, the appointed board may exercise all the powers and duties of a school board.
For North Forest, it means the people will have little voice and say in their education direction and future unless the people stand up with some strong demands and activism.
It is time to seize the reigns and direct our own destiny by returning to the true old paths and institutional traditions that made us great as a people in times past and gave us many of our highly intelligent role models, Black lawyers, doctors, scientists, businessmen and women and teachers. We must participate and demand it now.