Charlie and I attended along with Joanna Cullen, a long-time Central resident and public education advocate.
I honestly hesitate to put this up but I am because pressure needs to come to bear to end this situation (at least at the Mann building - there are other real and valid issues that the Taskforce is completely right about).
(To note: there were at least 25 people in the room, most of whom I did not know and could not read their names from afar. I apologize for those I can't name.)
Bottom line from the meeting:
To be clear - the district has said that the remaining groups in the Mann Building need to be out by Wednesday, September 18th. (This date is the one the district has to meet in order to get State dollars to help with the project. They will lose those dollars if they don't meet this date.)
It is clear to me that they will not leave peacefully. And, in fact, have expressed this both verbally and in writing, that they will not welcome Nova high school back (and, to my mind, have threatened the students and staff with hostility).
The issue - to me - is very complex and yet simple. These groups want to stay in the building to co-house with Nova.
Naturally, complicating the issue is the overall lack of progress in closing the achievement gap and the real issues around educating African-American children. On this point, of course they are right.
The frustration with a lack of progress and a real plan was palpable but the demands that it change within months seemed a hard nut to crack.
One issue that is unclear to me is what these programs are that are still in Mann, who they serve, who runs them and their education background, etc. That needs to be clarified.
One issue that was never brought up was that this experiment DID happen before and it was called the African-American Academy. It was designed by the community and got its own building. It failed for any number of reasons but it certainly was created and given license to create its own program.
But the issue of the achievement gap and staying in the Mann building issue, in my mind, are two - different - things.
From the meeting:
- There were no less than 11 staff members there including two principals and the Superintendent.
- It was repeated - over and over - by members of the taskforce that this was a complete crisis for learning for African-American students especially in the Central district. (At one point, Pegi McEvoy gently pointed out that they had to consider the needs of all AA students throughout the district.)
- Most of the group wants an advisory committee on the issue of the achievement gap for African-American students and the Superintendent agreed with them.
- There were questions about being able to stay in the building during construction. That can't happen because it wasn't bid that way and there will be no electricity and movement of hazardous materials.
- Does the redesign include the cultural legacy of the area? Mann is a City-landmarked building and, while the cultural influence of the area was discussed in the landmark document (apparently), it is not part of the remodel of the building. This made many of the group very unhappy and one person said it was "being planned for Mark (Principal Perry's) use."
- Pegi McEvoy said that the Van Asselt building was not a plausible place to move the programs but the Columbia building might be. There was a call for a "guarantee for a location."
- There was discussion about before/after school programs/summer programs at Mann and the district said it was possible but would need to see plans around any programs before saying yes.
- The principal of the World School was there and I felt it got uncomfortable for her as most of the group did not know or understand her program which has some of the most at-risk and high-need students in our district. (They also did not understand how much her program has gotten kicked around.) She got put on the spot about the different percentages of groups in her program (but that's because it is the most fluid school in the district). She was gracious but defended her program. TT Minor is being renovated for their program and would not have room for any other program(s).
- Oddly, there was no discussion about using MLK, Jr. building or even Lowell. I didn't get that.
- There was some question about room when Meany is rebuilt but I didn't hear a clear answer to that one.
- Thurgood Marshall and Madrona were also brought up as possibilities.
- Jerry DeGrieck, from the City, was there to answer questions about using Garfield CC or the old Miller CC. Mr. DeGrieck said there would be room for a once-a-week program but that the space would have to be shared with other programs. He said that the Old Miller CC (by Meany) doesn't really have much space that could be used.
- It was stated by Wyking Garrett that this situation was viewed as either a bunch of squatters in a building doing who knows what or concerned community working around a state of emergency for African-American students.
- What is absolutely confusing to me is that this seems like a call for a school/programs just for African-American students that would segregate them from other students.
- I was also confused when one woman, Julia, said that the World School had "institutional advocates" and African-American students did not. I do not believe either statement is true.
- There was talk about "trust issues" around what to do. Many felt they were invited to the table but that the district should have come to "their" table and asked for help.
- Oddly, Julia, a Muslim woman (she herself brought this up), felt the district had "wronged" their community and wanted an apology. Charlie and I looked at each other and I thought, "Good luck." Not because she was necessarily wrong but because the district NEVER says it's wrong.
- The Superintendent mildly took issue with the challenge to the sincerity of the district's efforts. He said he had gone out in the communities early on and added more meetings on, from the advice from Bernardo Ruiz, because people wanted to see him more. He said he heard their pain, anger, frustration and disappointment. He said they have to acknowledge that and own it.
- They are having another meeting (this was supposed to be the last one) next Thursday. It is open to the public.
- Some participants asked about what are the specifics to help AA
students in the district and while there is an overall strategy to close
the achievement gap via the Strategic Plan AND specific
school-by-school plans (some of which are helped by the City's Family
and Education levy), Superintendent Banda had to admit there was no
district-wide plan to close the achievement gap for African-American
This did NOT go over well and one woman said that the district needed to put this on their website "like a warning on a bottle of poison." She said the district should be asking the community to come and do this work and said, "We are paying you to destroy our children." Harsh words.
Then, it got somewhat heated but really just much more uncomfortable. A couple of women said some things about white privilege (and I absolutely agree it exists but it is also not fair to perceive that everyone in the room was white - they were not).
Wyking Garrett and Julia were both measured and quiet in their words but there was no mistaking their meaning.
She said her father once said, "I don't know if I'm leading the parade or running from the mob." And she explained that once she tells her community, she had no idea of their reaction.
Another member said "well, tell the truth to go to battle or go to war."
One woman said, looking at Banda, "There will be blood on your hands." The Superintendent seemed taken aback but said something to the effect that as adults we choose how to act.
Wyking said that "the contractor should be "aware" of the situation around this building. "
He also said that it is the "way of the world" for people to be unhappy about news they don't like and his community might not be happy.
The Superintendent should have enforced the lease months ago and did not. He will now have to make a hard decision on whether to bring in the police or Sheriff's department to evict these people. I think it very likely that people will allow themselves to be dragged from the building. You could hear it in what they said.
I am still baffled that the district is taking what some leasees want as some kind of mandate. They surely won't do this for any other group that is leasing space in the district.
This could be the worst mistake Banda could make so early in his superintendency. (I warned the Board last night this was a mistake. None of them attended the meeting.)
I think if the district does have the lease enforced it will be a lot of overt unpleasantness for one day but a lot of passive-aggressive behavior to come.
This is so sad because Nova, while a largely white school, is the ONE school that would accommodate any kind of learning desired. It's a project-based learning high school and if any student of color said, "I want to cast my learning around my ethnic background", the Nova staff would say, "Sure, how can we help?" And, the Nova principal, Mark Perry, is the MOST cool cat around. Nothing ruffles him but I feel for him and the truly terrible position he is in.
I don't know whose court the ball is in but I hope cooler heads prevail.