Children on the bottom of the academic ladder should be the Seattle School Board's top priority.
That's what a dozen African-American leaders and parents said yesterday while giving board members a chart showing African-American students scoring an average 39 points below white students on recent academic-achievement tests.
"That is segregation," said Dawn Mason, co-founder of two parent groups. "One group is being taught in the way they learn best and the other group is being ignored."
Superintendent William Kendrick said he was troubled by the gap and hoped that further reductions in class size would narrow it.
Last year, the district made modest gains in schools targeted for reducing the academic gap between white students and children of color. In reading, for example, the gap closed in eight of 18 targeted schools.
Five years ago, a Disproportionality Task Force appointed by the district made 18 recommendations for improving education for city students, especially children of color.
The recommendations were approved by district leaders, but have been gathering dust since then, according to Mason and others.
"If the walls in this room could only repeat some of the wisdom and advice provided by the African-American community over the years, yet ignored by those who did not see the political expediency of its implementation, there would be no reason for us to be here tonight," said Oscar Eason, a leader of the Coalition for the Education of Black Children.
Eliminating suspensions as punishment in elementary schools was among the recommendations of the Disproportionality Task Force.
Yet last year, 71 of 139 students suspended in Seattle elementary schools were African American, according to Yvonne Ervin Carr, president of the National Black Child Development institute. In middle schools, 500 of 1,000 students suspended were African American; in high schools, it was 900 out of 1,900, she said.
Eason called for the district to hire more African-American teachers to reflect the student population, which is about 25 percent African-American. About 10.5 percent of the district's 2,500 teachers are African-American.
Kendrick said he's told staff to "continue to search for role models." Last month, he sent recruiters to a national conference of African-American educators. He said he isn't sure if any teachers have signed on yet.
African-American leaders called for Kendrick's resignation a year ago after a reorganization forced a dozen high-level African Americans to resign and re-apply for their positions. The leaders haven't reiterated that call since Kendrick appointed Mona Bailey, an African-American woman, as second in command.