Op-ed: Must bridge racial divide in our schools

On Wednesday, March 4 in an op-ed placed in the East Bay Times, our Executive Director Natalie Walchuk and Leadership Council member Dr. Shantina Jackson called our community to action around transforming outcomes for our Black youth.

Our students are counting on all of us to commit to the conversation.

Please take a few minutes to read the piece, share and engage in dialogue with your networks, and encourage folks to attend Black Minds Matter.

Because Black Minds Matter: Must bridge racial divide in quality education

In its mission, the West Contra Costa Unified School District commits “to provide the highest quality education to enable all students to make positive life choices, strengthen our community, and successfully participate in a diverse and global society.” However, data clearly shows that our black students remain entrenched in a reality of inequality.

In 2013-14, 45 percent of district high school white graduates and 64 percent of Asian graduates were eligible to apply to a four-year university. In contrast, only 34 percent of African-American graduates had completed the required coursework to even apply to a University of California or California State University school.

For our younger students, the story is not much different. In the district, K-2 STAR early literacy assessment in 2014-15, 20 percent of African-American students were identified in May as “Probable Readers,” while 33 percent of Asian and 37 percent of white students had the same identification.

Unfortunately in West Contra Costa, our education system is failing our black students. Too often, at our schools with large black student populations, funds are scarce, teachers struggle to thrive on limited resources, and parents — their spirits already stretched thin by the challenge of simply providing for their families — feel disempowered and unheard.

And, frankly, every moment these conditions persist, we are failing to uplift our black youth, their families and communities, to a place of stability and success that every child and family deserves.

The link between system failure and the consequences that follow our black students and community has been challenging to prove. But now, through data-driven reflection, we have the tools to identify the systemic failures that have led to generational injustice, and to actively work together to write a new story.

To initiate the movement toward solutions, GO Public Schools West Contra Costa (GO WCC) will host “Black Minds Matter: A Data Equity Walk” on May 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

An experiential gathering of youth, families, community allies and organization and local leaders, as participants, will analyze and discuss the data showing that our black students suffer in an unjust educational system.

The event is co-sponsored by Education Trust-West, The BlackBoard of WCC and Bright Futures.

As educators and local leaders, we have seen firsthand how the education system struggles to provide equitable opportunities for all students and have heard our community’s cry to address this serious issue.

Born, raised and educated in Richmond, we were largely formed by our academic experiences and have come to understand the deep impacts of our schooling, both positive and negative.

These early years truly shape our children, and by extension, our community.

Along with a team of parents, advocates and neighbors across our district, we are committed to working to confront educational inequity. We believe that all students are capable of greatness and each deserves a high-quality education.

The event will mark the beginning of an ongoing dialogue around data, our students’ experiences, planning and action, and accountability in West Contra Costa.

Only through collective action can we disrupt the unjust policies and practices impacting our youth every day.

GO WCC and our partners are asking our high school youth, families, community allies and organizational leaders to join us at Black Minds Matter.

For more information and to register for the event, visit: http://blackmindsmatter.eventbrite.com


Dr. Shantina Jackson, born and raised in Richmond, has been a STEM education leader in the Bay Area for over 15 years. In her current role as Director of Community Engagement at Girls Who Code, Shantina drives community partnership, diversity, and inclusion, and scales computer science programs at the national level, working to close the gender gap in technology and engineering. Shantina previously worked as a math teacher at Richmond and El Cerrito High Schools, and with the Level Playing Field Institute eliminating barriers for students of color in STEM. She earned her PhD and Master’s in Education at UC Berkeley, and her undergraduate degree in African-American Studies from UCLA. Her research interests focus on the intersections of race, gender, and African-American educational thought.

Natalie Walchuk, Executive Director of GO Public Schools WCC, was born and raised in Richmond. She now raises her family here. Over the past 10 years, she has been a school leader at parochial and public schools in West Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Under her leadership as principal of Glenview Elementary in Oakland, the school experienced double-digit growth in both Math and ELA on the California Standards Test (CST) and achieved the most growth in the district for African American students in Math in 2011. In her final year in Oakland, Natalie received the Excellence in Educational Leadership Award with an unprecedented number of nominations.

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