"Go to school and get a good education."
This is a statement that many children have heard their parents tell them year after year for as long as the public school system has been operable.
From generation to generation, receiving a quality education was something that many African-American families emphasized heavily, having the strong belief that if their children received a quality education they would have a better life.
Now, many African-American families are concerned that their children’s education is being threatened and is under constant attack by the very people that have been elected or hired to help their children succeed.
A disturbing trend has occurred over the past several years that doesn’t paint a rosy picture for traditional black schools and needs to be addressed.
Many in the community believe that black people are being disrespected and disregarded when it comes to decisions made on their behalf.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
This past Monday, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) school board decided to change course on a plan proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration to close Ryan Middle School, a traditional black school located in Houston’s Third Ward community.
Grier and his administration recommended that the 265-student campus at Ryan be closed due to low enrollment and that it was in the best interest of the students, the community and the taxpayers to do so.
Parents and community leaders protested the proposed closure and a group of parents even threatened to take over the campus and occupy it if HISD chose to close it.
HISD Board Trustee Paula Harris, whose district includes the historic Third Ward campus, asked Superintendent Terry Grier to return with a new proposal to keep Ryan open, while providing additional resources to the school.
From 2002 to 2012, the student population of Ryan fell 70%, from 830 students to currently 265 students. Dallas Dance, the chief of middle schools of HISD, stated that Ryan has 570 middle school-aged students that are actually zoned to the school, but fewer than half of those students chose to attend Ryan. Ryan has only four teachers committed to return to the school next year, with the other teachers either transferring to other schools or retiring.
"It’s hard to sustain a school with just 260 kids," said HISD Board Trustee Rhonda Skillern Jones. "I encourage parents zoned to Ryan to start sending their kids there in order to keep the doors open."
It is projected that Ryan could be back on the chopping block within a year from now and that this was just a temporary band-aid.
BLACK SCHOOL EPIDEMIC
Black schools across the country are being downsized, closed and shut down like never before.
The treatment of members of the black community as it relates to something as near and dear to them as the education they received from these schools and the opportunity to have their children receive the same quality education has bothered many.
In January, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to close 11 elementary and middle public schools, much to the dismay and outcry of taxpaying citizens in those communities that were being impacted.
The city of Philadelphia’s school system has already closed 8 public schools this year and announced last month that it expected to close another 40 public schools next year and another 64 by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of current enrollment to charter schools and displace thousands of experienced, well qualified teachers.
Now, Ryan has joined the ever-growing list of traditional black schools on the proverbial chopping block by HISD.
HISD trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr. said that the district should have given the community more warning that Ryan was slated for closure. Trustee Harris said that she had been discussing the school closure of Ryan for approximately two years, and Superintendent Grier said that his staff has been talking with the community over the last six weeks.
The question is, who in the community was Grier talking to that agreed to this solution of placing Ryan on the chopping block in the first place?
For years, in the city of Houston, traditional black schools have served as a critical foundation and character building establishment within the black community. Many of our community leaders, elected officials and successful business leaders have come out of traditional black schools.
Attending schools like Jack Yates, Phillis Wheatley, E.O. Smith, Turner Elementary, James D. Ryan, Kashmere and Booker T. Washington meant an awful lot for black families growing up in Houston, Texas.
If you go into any black neighborhood, you will find grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and friends that have walked the halls of these traditional black schools and received a quality education that has helped them on the course of their career and life.
Sadly, the state of traditional black schools in Houston is being threatened by internal and external forces beyond the taxpaying black families’ immediate control.
Many black families that reside in the city of Houston are opting out of attending these traditional black schools, because of what they believe is an inadequate educational offering for their children.
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Every city, including Houston has their share of black families seeking to gain a quality education for their children, but it appears that the education of those children has become a game of high-stakes poker.
The lack of an adequate process of hiring principals for traditional black schools, coupled with a lack of accountability to demand consistent and sustainable leadership, continues to plague these schools.
Prior to the placement of an already established and experienced principal within HISD to take over the reign at Yates High School, the administration went outside of the state of Texas to hire a principal that had no experience as a principal. That principal lasted only five months at Yates before resigning and leaving the school with no consistent leadership.
HISD continues to support their partnership with charter schools that suck the enrollment out of traditional black schools. The majority of these charter schools are located in at-risk communities and students are recruited from those very areas.
Marketing for traditional black schools is extremely limited and not much is done to highlight the good and positive things going on at these traditional black schools by these school districts, so parents are left to rely on media hype and community perception. Most of that media hype and community perception is centered on the belief that there is a lack of stability, lack of quality teachers and lack of resources.
The placement of inexperienced principals in these schools has led to the mismanagement of many precious resources needed to adequately educate black students, giving parents the perception that there is no stability, safety or concern for their children if they chose to attend these schools.
Parents, unaware of what is happening, allow school districts like HISD to place these inexperienced principals and teachers at traditional black schools and allow them to implement experimental programs like the Apollo 20 program that are apparently only good enough to be implemented in traditional black schools, but not in other non-minority schools.
A CHANGE IS NEEDED
When it comes to the state of our black students and the schools that they are educated in, the black social elite rarely open their mouths to speak out against this educational travesty. Most sit idly by and say nothing, unless there is an opportunity to gain a contract or gain some recognition for their newfound interest and engagement in the issue. Many black elected officials, including school board members, have overseen the decimation of these traditional black schools, but turn a blind eye as long as those campaign contributions and contracts to supporters keep flowing.
This needs to stop and only those that are engaged in the process.
Lockhart Elementary and Turner Elementary were the feeder schools for Ryan Middle and Cullen Middle. Lockhart and Turner were consolidated, and by combining Lockhart and Turner, that reduced the number of students to flow into Ryan and Cullen. With the decrease in enrollment in Ryan and Cullen, that impacts the high schools like Jack Yates, whereby Ryan and Cullen are feeder schools.
This is an epidemic. HISD and all school districts across the country must proactively address these issues and do their best to attract students to these schools through marketing and engagement, in order to show these families that they are committed to providing their children a quality education.
Black families and their children, the black community and concerned teachers continue to remain the victims of this mismanagement and poor leadership, thus strangling the life out of these black public schools.