Month: September 2016

Black Lives Have to Start Mattering to White People

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Having your own children, or being in charge of the lives of other peoples’ children forces you to have a different perspective regarding the value of life. As a school leader, I am responsible for all of my students, including my son who currently attends my school. That said, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to hide my frustration with the total disregard for the lives African-American males in the United States. It seems as if every time I read the NY Times, log onto Facebook, watch CNN or Fox News, tweet, there is a new instance of blatant disregard for black lives.

Self-Admittedly, I was an open advocate for #Alllivesmatter two years ago. I had a tee shirt made, and I really thought I was on to something. My argument, which I now know and have accepted as fundamentally flawed, centered around the question, how can we hold police (mainly white cops) accountable for black lives, if we don’t hold ourselves accountable when we kill each other, referring to (black on black crime).

I’ve accepted this argument as fundamentally flawed because of several things, they are as follows:

1. Unemployment in what I call “first 48 cities” which are cities with disproportionately high murder rates. Joblessness equals hopelessness, hopelessness spawns desperation, which pits poor against poor, ultimately resulting in a sense of lawlessness. If you have no money, natural instincts put you in survivor mode.
2. Disproportionate sentencing for drug usage and/or drug dealing. Research supports the fact that the majority of drug dealers in the USA are white, whereas the majority of the folks in prison for dealing drugs are not white.
3. Education that has failed students. Traditional public schools usually bare the brunt when I write, but they are not the only culprits. Charter schools with zero tolerance behavioral standards, also perpetuate the school to prison pipeline as well. We must improve our schools, and make them welcoming for minorities. We much teach to multiple modalities, and differentiate the way we assess if learning is occurring in schools.

Moreover, I can speak at nauseam about how Blacks are fed up with unfair treatment. I can talk about the Charlotte riots, racists comments made by the Congressman Pittenger whose constituents are from North Carolina, failure of police to release video surrounding the death of Keith Lamont Scott. Here you have a wife who recorded her husband being killed. I would never want anyone to have to go through this. Yet this is the type of trauma that has been inflicted on Blacks for hundreds of years.

There are many more examples, Hashtags murders are what I call them, but the only way to end these hashtag murders is for whites to join the fight and outwardly state that the treatment of minorities in this country is deplorable, and as Americans we all deserve a better America.

Where do you stand?

Will you stand up for Black Lives?


‘The Shame of a School District’

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‘The Shame of the School District’

How can we allow our traditional public schools to continue to fail black and Hispanic students? Why aren’t failing schools met with outrage and skepticism?

When I initially read about the state designating Riverhead School District as a Focus District, I immediately thought about Jonathan Kozol’s book, “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.”

Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton has been zoned to receive most of the district’s Caucasian students while black and Hispanic students are relegated to attend schools that have failed them perennially. Please read the recent letter signed by Christine Tona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, explaining Riverhead’s designation as a Focus District. It takes a high degree of arrogance and privilege to shape the narrative to blame others for what’s clearly a lack of progress.

The following schools were designated as Focus Schools this year due to their inability to show growth in the following subgroups of students:

  • Roanoke Avenue Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (Hispanic).
  • Riverhead Middle School: economically disadvantaged (Limited English Proficient).
  • Riley Avenue Elementary School: students with disabilities.
  • Riverhead High School: economically disadvantaged (Hispanic).
  • Phillips Avenue Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (black and Hispanic).
  • Pulaski Street Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (black, Hispanic, and Limited English Proficient).

How is this not a Civil Rights issue with black and brown students consistently not showing academic growth? Academic plans (local assistance plans) being put in place, failing miserably, with little to no accountability? Everyone can’t be rated effective when certain subgroups of students clearly aren’t learning. Why aren’t black and Hispanic leaders in Riverhead and around the country up in arms about what’s transpiring in this district?

The NAACP recently passed a referendum calling for a moratorium on charter schools nationwide. However, the Riverhead School District is a perfect case study to show why a referendum such as this in inherently wrong and will ultimately do more damage to black and Hispanic students.

The NAACP, Black Lives Matters (BLM) education platform, etc. need to focus on failing schools period. There shouldn’t be this move to isolate charter schools and use them as scapegoats for America’s failing schools. Charter schools educate 6 percent of students nationwide.

After doing a statistical analysis of the test scores, we found the Riverhead Charter School outperformed both Riley and Aquebogue schools.

More than half of our public charter school’s population comes from the Riverhead School District. Let me be the first to say that those students are showing academic growth.

The option for students in a Focus School to transfer to a school in good standing is legally required by the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law requires districts to notify parents no later than 14 days before the start of the school year of their option to transfer from a Focus School. What’s being done to improve these schools? Have there been any changes in leadership? These are all questions I ask because I know what accountability should look like.

The district had known of their responsibility to inform parents of their choices for months — why wait until the state mandated deadline of 14 days prior to the beginning of the school year to inform parents of their rights?

We can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s occurring in these schools. I know first-hand that if schools are integrated through parent choice, then all kids can learn. Our charter school is a perfect example since we have made progress with the toughest subgroups of students, including economically disadvantaged, black and Hispanic students.

We’ve reached out to the Riverhead School District on numerous occasions to foster a relationship and share best practices. It should be second nature for a relationship to exist since over half of our K-8 student population attends Riverhead High School. Quite frankly, I’m a little scared for our future high school students. It may be time to petition the state to expand our charter school to include high school grades in order to give parents yet another choice for their children, as well help with classroom sizes and overcrowding.

Lastly, as I’ve read comments posted online about Riverhead school district’s designation as a Focus District, I saw remarks that were blatantly racist. The mere thought of blaming migrant workers for failing schools speaks to the regressions that are occurring regarding race relations in our country. Migrant workers, poor Caucasian families, black families, Hispanic families, all families have a right to a quality education. Race should not play a role in what we offer to students.

While I know this column won’t go over well with a lot of people on Long Island, I hope it starts the conversation to discuss ways to improve schools for all students.

Raymond Ankrum is the executive director and principal of Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.

This post/article was published in the Riverhead News Review