The following is a statement read by Carol Barry-Austin and Meredith Sue Willis, Co-chairs, Schools Committee, Community Coalition on Race, at the Board of Education on May 15, 2017.
The Schools Committee of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race would like, as we have done in the past, to bring to the attention of the Board of Education several vital issues that need to be addressed immediately.
- First, based on the recent demographic studies done by the Coalition on Race, we have become deeply concerned about the increasing segregation of the elementary schools. Our elementary schools are at the present time majority white and trending toward an even larger white majority. Some schools, however, have a larger percentage of white students than the overall elementary population, and Seth Boyden School has a larger percentage of children of color than the overall elementary school population. How is the district going to respond to the changing demographics? Whether the plan includes true magnet schools, pairing of schools like the original Marshall-Jefferson pairing, grade clusters, or some other idea, we want to see true integration and equality. Racial segregation undermines the values of our community and certainly does not reflect the intention of Board policies.
- Second, the Board of Education’s policy to allow students to opt into levels of their choice in many high school classes, while a laudable goal, does not give enough support to those students who need help navigating the system of choice and then in succeeding in the classes they choose to take. The high school is diverse overall, but you can still look into too many classrooms and see a large majority of students of one race. Students as well as adults are fully aware of and troubled by this.
- Third, though the district continues to have as one of its goals to increase and maintain a diverse staff, and though the Coalition on Race has advocated this for many years, we have not seen much movement on increasing the number of teachers of color in our district, nor have enough robust efforts been made to retain the teachers of color we already have. We are aware that a Diversity Job Fair is scheduled for this spring but we are not satisfied that this is enough, especially given the district’s history with recruiting teachers of color.
While we understand that change takes time, the Schools Committee has spent a great deal of effort and resources advocating these and similar issues, coming before several different boards over more than fifteen years. We currently have a superintendent and Board of Education of good will, but caring is not enough without action. Our students deserve better. If this board is serious about creating a system where all students are expected to excel, then the time has truly come to integrate the elementary schools; give support to all students to move up to the most rigorous classes they can handle; and to hire and retain more teachers of color.
Meredith Sue Willis
Co-chairs, Schools Committee, Community Coalition on Race