Dayton schools focus on black male achievement

Dayton Public Schools will launch an Office for Males of Color Achievement for the 2016-17 school year, aimed at improving attendance and performance of black male students, who have traditionally lagged on state test scores and graduation rates.

The school board unanimously approved that initiative Tuesday night after a presentation from Chief of School Innovation David Lawrence, calling for a first-year budget of $200,000 for an associate director and four adjunct facilitators.

“I’m 73 years old and this has been a long road,” school board member Ron Lee said. “It’s so sad that the issues young men are facing today, I faced as a young African-American. It says a lot for where we haven’t come, even though we’ve made strides. … Nobody’s going to do it for us. We have to do it ourselves.”

Dayton Public Schools officials visited the Oakland (Calif.) and Minneapolis school districts to see those cities’ larger, existing efforts to improve black male achievement.

City Commissioner Jeff Mims, a former school board member involved with the project, said a part of the effort is building up students’ belief that they have value. Lawrence’s presentation mentioned training on the ID Scholastic Curriculum program — a literacy program with a focus on helping students “believe in themselves as smart, creative and capable human beings.”

Lawrence offered a set of goals for Dayton that he said was taken from Oakland’s project — reducing the disparity in suspensions and the number of expulsions for males of color by 20 percent; increasing graduation rates by 20 percent over four years for males of color; reducing chronic attendance problems by 20 percent, and increasing the number of students involved in advanced coursework by 10 percent.

“This is an initiative where you identify some of the lowest-performing subgroups and aggressively attack and put programs and supports in place to move those groups forward,” Lawrence said. “We need all hands on deck. We heard repeatedly in Oakland and Minnesota that the community has to be involved, not just the schools.”

Lawrence said goals in the first 100 days include meetings at schools, churches and barbershops to understand student and community opinions and needs. There will also be an effort to get people certified as mentors and to create fundraising goals to draw grant funds and donations.

Board member John McManus called the Males of Color Achievement possibly “one of the most important things we can do to avoid state takeover,” of Dayton Public Schools, pointing to the need to quickly pull up test scores for low-performing students.

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