School District Admits it Could Improve Black Student Achievement

There were pie charts, there were bar graphs, there were mission statements. And in the end, there was some frank discussion of how far South Kitsap School District has to go to address the issue of black student achievement.
The Bremerton African-American Ministerial Association and South Kitsap School District officials on March 22 hosted a forum for parents on what the district is doing to support minority students. The forum is one in a series of meetings BAAMA has set up with school districts throughout Kitsap County. Their goal is to ensure all students meet or exceed graduation requirements, said the group’s president, Larry Robertson, pastor of Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Bremerton.
While the forums are aimed primarily at black families, he said, all parents are invited. Robertson noted that conditions promoting black student achievement ultimately benefit all students.


Demographically speaking, South Kitsap School District is blindingly white. White students make up 80.7 percent of total enrollment, and of the district’s 1,255 employees, 1,184 are white. Black students, on the other hand, make up a mere 3.2 percent of enrollment, and the district has all of 10 black employees, three teachers, one administrator and six classified staff members.
School district officials acknowledged that, while their mission is to promote a diverse culture, they’re just not there yet.
“Those numbers are dismal,” said Greg Roberts, assistant superintendent of personnel, speaking of the employment numbers. “That’s one of the things I’m excited about to hear from the community how we can increase those numbers.”
Several parents at the forum said that having more black staff members, especially teachers, is important to them and their children.
“You need to get more people of ethnicity in the school,” said Henry Shepherd, whose five children graduated from South Kitsap School District. “They’re going to have to see more people of color, someone who’s not just a janitor or bus driver. … We have to have a much more diverse culture.”
J.D. Sweet, a former South Kitsap teacher who now teaches in Central Kitsap School District, said, while the focus is not on quotas, the issue of numbers is real.
“I’m concerned that African-American students in big schools get lost in the big sea,” said Sweet, who is black. “I know when they come in there, most of them are looking for people who look like them.”
Sweet said he’s advised counselors in his district to look out not only for the students who are struggling, but for the students who show exceptional promise, to make sure that the classes they are taking are adequately challenging, placing them on a competitive track for college admissions.
On the topic of student achievement, Dan Whitford, director of instructional services, noted that, as a group, black students in South Kitsap lag behind their peers in all areas of the WASL, especially math.
“The good news is, we’re making progress,” Whitford said. “Their scores are getting higher every year, but they need to be a lot higher.”
Whitford extended an open invitation to parents to contact teachers and district officials whenever they had concerns about their students.
“We need you to be involved,” said Whitford. “We need not to get defensive when you get in our faces and say, ‘This isn’t very good.’”
David La Rose, a school official who called himself “the culture guy,” spoke passionately about non-academic factors that help students achieve, including positive relationships with teachers and other adults, and schools that promote a welcoming culture.
La Rose pointed to satisfaction surveys distributed to all students, parents and staff. Some areas showed high levels of satisfaction, but to the statement, “Most students are respectful of others at this school,” only 38 percent of students last year answered “yes.”
“That is a problem,” said La Rose. “That is a barrier to what we are trying to achieve. If that’s how kids are feeling when they get to school, they’re not going to engage.”
La Rose pledged the district’s commitment to improve the climate of acceptance at all schools.
“We can throw a lot of data at you, but bottom line, what are we doing about it?” La Rose said.
Facilitator Cherry Rachal, a retired teacher, said BAAMA hopes the forums open a productive dialog between parents and school district officials.
“I’m speaking as a teacher and a parent,” she said to the audience. “I’m not going to sugar coat it. You’ve got to get involved.”
Pastor Floyd Robinson of Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in Bremerton, a BAAMA member, said he appreciated South Kitsap’s openness to his group.
“I think they did an outstanding job on this presentation,” he said. “They’ve also shown a true desire to work with the community, with parents and with the BAAMA organization.”
Robinson was encouraged by the number of parents who attended the forum.
“For South Kitsap, I was pleased with the turnout,” he said. “When word gets out of what happened here tonight, there’ll be more.”

11 thoughts on “School District Admits it Could Improve Black Student Achievement

  1. I had approached Bishop Robinson about having a series of forums on the needs of adolescent boys. My hope was that we could have a presentation by leading, best selling author Michael Gurian along with workshops for parents and teachers. Is there any interest on this topic. According to research cited by Mr. Gurian, adolescent boys of all color are: 4 times more likely to die before the age of 18; 4 times more likely to drop out of high school; 4 times more likely to commit suicide; make up a higher percentages of the students in special education classes and the list goes on. Can we possibly get any interest in the needs of boys amongst our ministerial groups and school districts?

  2. Does the standard required to graduate need to be lowered to graduate more black students or raised to flunk more white students?
    Is an equal ratio of black and white students and teachers needed?
    How do we accomplish a even mix?
    Any stereotypes anyone might have had of different races, must have disappeared during the Thomas/Anita Hill hearings.

  3. Whether it is a black student, a white student, a special needs student, the public schools lost their focus. Today, unless you are a student who is nearly able to teach yourself or you have the resources at home and parent involvement to pick up where public education leaves off your chance of leaving public schools prepared for your future is very unlikely.

    Unfortunately, school employee labor unions, most notably the teacher’s union, work in direct opposition to the fundamental purpose for which schools are established. The articles attached to this letter serve as reference to this trend. Check the “ppionline” link as it most directly deals with minority interests.

    With regard to SKSD, if one is to back-out the cost the school district spends to insure the teachers’ future is well served, it is clear why little is left to insure the future lives of the kids to whom they are entrusted isn’t better served.

    For example: Taking data from the SKSD’s budget and Teacher’s labor contract found on the District’s web site it suggests the following…

    There are 683 teachers with an average tenure of 13.5 years. 60% have at least a masters degree. Teaching and teaching support costs $59,775,195 for the 182-day school year, or $481/day/teacher or $64/teacher-hour.

    In each school year, per the union agreement, each teacher is entitled to 18 paid days of absence for such reasons as, sick leave, personal leave, emergency leave, etc. This doesn’t include those other allowed absences listed below, as I couldn’t derive an hourly cost. There are 24 non-student days (such as holidays, spring break, etc), and 9 early-release days. Additionally, each teacher has 78 days of summer leave per year. Furthermore in each school year, 1% or approx. 7 teachers are paid not to teach school but to go to school themselves – sabbaticals. There are also early dismissal days, conference days, bereavement days, meetings, maternity leave (20 days), health leave, leave without pay, Stipends hours, etc.

    On the days a teacher actually shows up for their 7.5 hr work schedule, 1 hour of which no students are on campus, in addition they are allocated between .6 to 1 class period/day for “uninterrupted planning.” And of course each teacher has a .5hr duty-free lunch, etc. This, conservatively, amounts to about 2.5 non-teaching hours/workday/teacher out of a 7.5 hr workday.

    The point of all this is…

    The school district claims “it’s all about kids” and it cost $59,775,195 for teaching and support. However this is what’s left “for the kids” after all the perks, benefits and nonsense mentioned above is deducted as far as it can be known from the documents referenced.

    ($59,775,195 budget) – ($5,842,587 paid absence/year) – ($612,630 Sabbaticals/year) -(~$20,800,000 total cost of non-teaching hours/workday/year)

    What is left….

    = $33M is for the kids! And that is probably being generous given some of the courses that pass as instruction and the hidden costs of early dismissal, conferences, teacher training, etc., which can’t be quantified by the documents reference.

    Now if there is a better source for these calculations point me to it.

  4. Bill,

    Your numbers were already discussed in another forum, where there were counter-opinions and facts regarding your basic number premises and calculations.

    For example, I already explained that the $612,000 you quote in sabbaticals paid is not accurate. In fact, you are about $612,000 off the mark.

    I’m all for dialog on important issues, but your number crunching doesn’t correlate with rational accounting practices.

    By the way, I attended the BAAMA forum the other evening and was impressed with the dialog about strategies to improve student achievement in minority populations in SKSD. There was frank and honest discussion. A climate was created to work together.

    Problems aren’t solved in a single night’s meeting. Problems are solved through methodical, data driven research and collaborative strategies to move to models that work better than the models they are replacing.

    Progress takes time and requires patience and persistence.

    Regards,
    Kathryn Simpson

  5. Bill Scheidler,

    You say, “Now, if there is a better source for these calculations point me to it.” I already did. But, rather than go back to square one, you just continued on. And, it’s not because you didn’t read the information I gave you. You obviously read it.

    Now go back to square one. Your calculations are all incorrect. Your assumptions are all wrong. Your tactics are ineffective for any useful purpose.

    Recognize that the board does what it does in collective bargaining because they believe it is the way to put the desired faculty members into our schools, not because they think they are doing anything wrong. If you think they are wrong, you need to demonstrate it to them — and that will require that you get what you are saying right to begin with.

  6. Why are you debating, yet again, teacher salaries? This story was about the need to support children of color and help them achieve. I am working with Bishop Robinson on this issue. It is critically important. Why should it be about anything else?

  7. Mary Colborn,

    To the extent that Bill Scheidler has a valid point, it is that resources (money available to pay faculty to help minorities do better academically) aren’t being used as well as they could be.

    He still needs to demonstrate to the board (not just in a blog comment or letter to the editor) that he is correct, but that doesn’t make his point irrelevant to the discussion of what to do to increase academic achievement.

  8. Mary, when you stated in your comment that this thread isn’t about teacher compensation, and asked why the debate would be here, you were saying that the point was not relevant to the topic. I am simply saying that it is relevant to the topic. If you want to increase academic achievement — whether for minorities or everyone — you need faculty and staff, don’t you? If you are not using your resources as effectively as you should be, wouldn’t it be important to change in order to help minorities and others?

    You didn’t use the word “irrelevant,” but that is what your comment boils down to.

  9. I am not going to argue. I believe from the research I have done on this issue and that I have discussed with Bishop Robinson, student achievement (as well as emotional health) is dependent on more than just increasing faulty and staff. This is one issue that really goes beyond professional staffing. In fact, from the work of best selling author and researcher Michael Gurian, who writes on the needs of boys (and girls), adolescent boys, including those of color, need to be surrounded by a clan that supports them. This clan includes teachers and counselors, but it also includes coaches, parents, grandparents, uncles, youth leaders, mentors and the list goes on. My beliefs are that we put too much emphasis on professional paid staff, when much good work can and should be done by the community. That’s why I wrote that I believe it is a waste of time to belabor issues of teacher salary and compensation, etc, etc. Just as I don’t believe the solution to early childhood education lies in taking children out of their homes earlier to place them in programs, nor do I think the solution for our childrens’ achievement lies in boosting staff numbers and compensation. I think strengthening families, empowering parents and building community will make an important and significant difference. If only teachers were necessary for students to achieve, then our students would be achieving. Yet, the statistics show that boys are in freefall academically and socially. They (we) need more than just teachers to reverse this decline. They (we) need stronger communities.

  10. Mary … could you give examples of…

    1) strengthening families…how?
    2) empowering parents ….. how?
    3) building community …… how?

    Thank you. Sharon O’Hara

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