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School District's Silent on Plan for Black Students, But Boasts Student Equity Efforts

A few years ago, the San Diego Unified School District adopted a plan to improve academic achievement for black students. But despite years of task force meetings and buy-in from a handful of schools, the plan was never fully rolled out districtwide. Now, the district appears to be either overhauling the blueprint or scrapping it altogether. Meanwhile, it’s moving forward with a new plan to build a coalition focused on equity.

A few years ago, the San Diego Unified School District adopted a plan to improve academic achievement for black students.

The plan, called the Blueprint to Accelerate the Achievement of African American and African Students, was proposed by a coalition of educators and included an extensive list of recommendations, including things like hiring more teachers of color, improving graduation rates and conducting more professional development for teachers, so they’re better equipped to teach in high-need schools.

But, despite years of task force meetings and buy-in from a handful of schools, San Diego Unified never fully rolled out the plan districtwide. Now, the district appears to be either overhauling the blueprint or scrapping it altogether – the district would not clarify.

“They’re talking about revamping the blueprint now, but what’s the point of revamping it when they haven’t done anything in the first plan?” Wendell Bass, a retired principal who helped create the plan in 2009, said earlier this year. “We’ve gotten to a point where, if you’re not going to do anything recommended in the blueprint, do something.”

A few weeks ago, the district scheduled the first task force meeting of the new school year and invited the group of educators who helped come up with the blueprint – the Association of African American Educators – to show solidarity on the district’s claim that it successfully implements the blueprint.

In response, LaShae Collins, a school board candidate and former AAAE president, asked the district for information on how it uses the blueprint – such as how much funding the district dedicates to programs serving black students and measurable outcomes.

The district refused, said Collins.

Then the district canceled the meeting altogether. In an email, the district wrote it needed more time to sufficiently notify blueprint stakeholders and community members about the meeting’s structure. The district has not announced a new date for a blueprint meeting.

“The district claims that task force recommendations are being implemented, yet the district has refused to be transparent with the strategies or results. We believe this plan is necessary to build community relationships and address the achievement gap for some of the district’s most vulnerable students,” Collins, who remains an AAAE board member, said.

The district’s dismissal of AAAE’s request for data is part of a long pattern. At a 2011 school board meeting, AAAE provided blueprint monitoring guidelines for the district to follow, calling for data collection, progress and annual reports. And, just a few months ago, AAAE wrote a detailed letter to the district outlining data demands submitted through a public records request. So far, the district’s provided no data to AAAE, said Collins.

Meanwhile, the district’s moving forward with plans to build a new coalition behind issues of equity.

“We’re going to face a very difficult issue together, as a community, the issue of race,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said at a recent school board meeting.

The new coalition will address societal problems that schools and communities often look to the district to solve, she said, and it will ensure all students are college- and career-ready. It’s not clear whether any plan from the new coalition would be intended to replace the blueprint. The district did not respond to Voice of San Diego’s repeated requests on whether the district plans to continue using the blueprint.

“I’m truly concerned with the lack of partnership that has been shown by the school district for your blueprint, you own it,” Francine Maxwell, a parent, said at the meeting.

Maxwell suggested the district is unfairly disregarding AAAE’s efforts.

“A diversity coalition would mean that everybody is included. If you’re going to do away with the AAAE meetings about your blueprint, then you should be doing away with the LGBTQ meetings, the Latino advisory, you should be doing away with everybody because we all fold into one diversity coalition.”

Meanwhile, black students’ academic needs remain urgent. According to this year’s Smarter Balanced Test results – black students, who make up around 10 percent of the district, score among the lowest of all racial groups. (One report showed 36 percent of black students did not meet the standard in English Language Arts, compared with only 9 percent of whites and 10 percent of Asians who did not.)

“Instead of engaging in a productive dialogue, the district leadership has notified us it may rename the task force or do away with it altogether. We are disappointed in the lack of engagement on this issue, and concerned for our students. The community wants answers,” Collins said.

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