By Harold Gwin
Protests, demonstrations and boycotts may be on the horizon in the city as a community educational support and activist group seeks to attack what it sees as the practice of structural racism it says is endorsed by the school board.
The United Front 4 Educational Justice, the advocacy arm of the Community High Commission On Closing the Academic Standards Achievement Gap for Afrikan Students in the Youngstown City Schools, has put the community on notice that the commission is prepared to take action.
Central to its concern is the school board’s unwillingness to consider changing the name of the new Woodrow Wilson Middle School to open this fall on the city’s South Side.
Members of the commission approached the school board months ago asking for community forums to discuss the name of the new school, arguing that President Woodrow Wilson, though credited with great achievements, was racist.
Some historians agree that Wilson, a product of post-Civil Ear Reconstruction in the South, allowed racial segregation in departments in his administration and that his zeal for humanitarian justice didn’t extend to American blacks.
The school district, which has 69 percent black enrollment, should pick a more appropriate hero, Gregory Warren, a member of the Community High Commission, told the school board last fall.
Jimma McWilson, who lists himself as a family education advocate, sent a letter to Mayor Jay Williams on Monday giving “notice of intent to engage in protests, demonstrations and boycotts” in the city.
When asked what that meant, McWilson likened the plan to the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Ala., in 1957-58 that saw voting rights marches, bus boycotts and high school integration.
He offered no time frame for when the protests might begin but pointed out that Montgomery protsts lasted 381 days.
The naming of the school may have been a trigger for the movement, but the issues go deeper, according to McWilson’s letter.
The board’s current plan to place all failing students from all middle schools in the new building is “segregated tracking,” he said, arguing that the new middle school, “in essence, will serve as [school board] President [Anthony] Catale’s prep school for the school-to-prison pipeline he’s been promoting.”
Catale pointed out that it was Wendy Webb, the district’s superintendent, who has proposed putting a new program to be called Pathways to Advancement in the Wilson building. It wasn’t his suggestion, he said.
Webb, who is black, said the program isn’t targeting students but is designed to provide intense academic intervention for students in grades seven through nine who are failing two or more subjects.
The idea is to accelerate their learning so they can return to the mainstream classroom, not offer them remediation, she said.
Catale said the program must yet win the approval of the state Academic Distress Commission overseeing Youngstown’s efforts to recover from academic emergency.
As for the school name, the signs have been ordered and are in place and the name was part of the $190 million school reconstruction program from its beginning about six years ago, he said.
The building is on the site of the former Woodrow Wilson High School which existed from 1928 until it was razed in the rebuilding program. The name transferred to the middle school with little or no debate, though there was a push from some Wilson graduates to retain the name because of the school’s historical significance to the city.