Equality sought by local branch of NAACP

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Black students and their parents must be told if academic tests reveal a gifted student who's eligible for suitable classes, according to the Marshall County Branch of the NAACP.

Rochelle Alexander, branch secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also endorsed hiring practices for the school system so the faculty reflects the diversity of its community.

Alexander's presentation to the school board on Monday night was discussed at length. That discussion is to continue at the board's Policy Committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 3 in school headquarters, the building that was a black school here before desegregation nearly 40 years ago.

The branch secretary also sought assurances that the school system will maintain a current list of minority contractors so when the system is making purchases, those businesses have a fair shake while competing for the job or purchase.

Sensitivity training for school system employees is also endorsed, Alexander said.

Among those responding to her requests was Roy Dukes, the interim director of schools who was promoted from his long-standing position as assistant director. Dukes' responsibilities have included his participation in state officials' work to make tests fair from the perspective of the student's gender, ethnicity, handicap and other circumstances.

Dukes briefly reviewed percentages of minority and white students in the system. About eight percent of the students are black, one of several minority populations. If that's the percentage to use, he said, then about eight percent of the faculty is to be black.

"If we, as a board, don't reach that, we're contributing to discrimination," Dukes said.

Alexander responded: the association is trying "to get our fair shake."

Pursuing the issue on another of Alexander's requests was Kristen Gold, a school board member who asked about qualifying students as gifted for special classes: "Isn't that by tests?"

Dukes agreed, but said, "There may have been some students who were not asked to be involved." He endorsed a closer examination of how students are sent to classes for gifted students.

"You could have a student tested as gifted, but they were never notified, or the school official hadn't been told that the child is gifted," Dukes said.

Gold and school board member Craig Michael said they thought there would have been a policy and process on notification. Both seemed to agree that talented students shouldn't be allowed to "fall through the cracks" and not receive the attention that would challenge them to develop their intellect.

Discussion indicated that if there's a policy, it should be used and if there is no policy on notification, then one should be developed and used.

Dukes then re-read the association's request and reviewed Marshall County's census figures that show 8.3 percent of the residents are African-Americans, 5.7 percent are Hispanic and nearly one percent are Asians, Pacific Islanders, and of various other ethnic heritage categories including Eskimos.

"So we are really at 15 percent minority," Dukes said.

Alexander had said that if system officials could "come to a better conclusion, that's fine."

"Students," Dukes said, "learn from other cultures." A student from a homogeneous system might it difficult to understand a college professor from another culture and suffer academically as a result.

Bill Murphy, vice president of the NAACP here, told the board he graduated from the Jones School and that he's concerned about diversity.

"It's clear to me that some African-American students are tense," he said. "The (faculty) recruitment issue is very serious."

Black students' progress could be tremendous if there were more black teachers, he said.

"Caucasian students will get more from it," Murphy said.

School Board member Ann Tears noted that Alexander and the NAACP asked that their proposals become part of the system's policy book and to do that, the next step would be to deal with them in a Policy Committee meeting.

While Monday's meeting was a non-voting workshop, the panel seemed to reach a consensus that Alexander should meet with the Policy Committee.

Meanwhile, chairman Mike Keny noted that a sensitivity training program was scheduled for Tuesday this week at school headquarters.

Gold said she attended a diversity training class last year during an in-service training program for the faculty.

Michael interjected that while the county's overall minority population might be 15 percent, the rate is 20 percent in Lewisburg.

He left unstated the implication that the percentage of minority faculty members might have to be higher for schools in Lewisburg, but concluded that he welcomes diversity.

"I'm glad I've not had to go through life looking at somebody looking like me," Michael said with a subtle grin.