By Denise Dick
A group of activists and city school parents, frustrated with what they see as a lack of response to its concerns from the school board, is launching its own action plan to improve the quality of education.
Members of the Campaign for African American Achievement, an umbrella organization that includes other groups, for the last few weeks have been asking the city school board to adopt the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, an executive order signed last July by President Barack Obama.
The order calls for efforts to increase the percentage of black children who enter kindergarten, expand educational opportunities for black students and decrease the “disproportionate number of referrals of African American children from general education to special education.”
So far, the school board hasn’t acted on the request, although the Youngstown Schools Academic Distress Commission last week included the executive order in the academic recovery plan update.
Richard Atkinson, school board president, declined to comment.
Jimma McWilson, the campaign’s founder, said at a news conference Wednesday at the East Side Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County that the city school district has earned either a D or an F on the state report card for the past 14 years.
“African American students have gotten an F all 14 years,” he said, referring to test data. “That is not only unacceptable, we need to focus on educational excellence.”
Black students comprise about 67 percent of the district’s enrollment. McWilson said the organizations want all children to succeed, but that can’t happen if 67 percent of city school students aren’t excelling.
Aaron Scott, a co-president of the Parent-Student Union, one of the groups in the campaign, is a 2008 city schools graduate. He said when he graduated, he didn’t even know that he was at a disadvantage.
“I wasn’t aware that I was at the bottom,” he said.
Scott, who plans to study at Youngstown State University this fall, said he’s working to help other young people in the city schools.
The Parent-Student Union plans to launch a grass-roots effort to educate parents about the problems in the school system, McWilson said.
He said campaign members also plan to go to Washington, D.C., next week to begin the process to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Education because they believe black students aren’t being provided quality education.