Breakfast forum addresses educational challenges facing Broward County students
By Charles Moseley
The plight of America’s youth enrolled in public schools across the country has become increasingly a cause for concern. Statistics which compare the academic achievement of Black and brown students to their white counterparts show a negative disparity among African American and Hispanic students. This education phenomenon has existed for years and now has reached a point where it is not only being voiced by education professionals, but resonated all the way to our nation’s Oval Office.
The challenges facing Black and brown public school students prompted President Barack Obama enact by Executive Order on July 26,2012 legislation designated toward those minority students, so that they would be provided with the tools and resources, to help them achieve academic excellence in the classroom.
The issues facing public school systems across the country prompted Earl Graves, Sr., publisher of Black Enterprise, to make the following statement in the March 2013 edition. Regarding the status of public school systems in America Graves said the following:
“It is no longer news that America’s public education system is in crisis. We must take a stand and not leave the solutions to educating our children to others.”
These education issues pro-vided the impetus of discussion at a local breakfast forum at the Tower Club in downtown Fort Lauderdale held April 26. The breakfast was spearheaded by Attorney Eugene Pettis, partner in the law firm of Eugene K. Pettis, co-founder of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm (HPS) and President elect of The Florida Bar. The panel discussion titled, “Education Challenges in Broward County,” featured a group of educational professionals who represented the Broward County Public School System which included Robert Runcie, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Rosalind Osgood, Broward County School Board (District 5); Jeffrey L. Williams Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Contract Manager Facilitator. Black Male Task Force; Patricia Lesesne, Program Manager for Mentoring Tomorrow’s Leaders(MTL); and Dennis Wright, President of the 100 Black Men of Greater Fort Lauderdale.
The primary focus of the panel discussion centered upon issues which had the greatest impact on African American public school students here in Broward County, not the least of which included major issues such as the graduation rates among other things faced by African American male students.
Students represented among that group are more likely to under achieve academically as compared to their white counter-parts. The panel acknowledged that this was an area of major concern which no longer was acceptable.
Panelists reviewed the steps which had been initiated by Superintendent Runcie which were specifically designed to address the state of African American students at every academic level.
Studies have concluded that African American males lag behind in areas including standardized testing and graduation rates, yet lead among the highest levels among high school dropouts and those who are expended or expelled. These problematic areas require that special attention be focused on Black males by Broward County’s Public School System.
Attorney Pettis moderated the panel discussion. He has been actively engaged on the topic of public school education issues and weighed in throughout the panel discussion.
“I think that it’s clear that the community recognizes there is a need for a holistic approach to education. And I believe it will intensify our efforts and our will on engagement of the community, the educations system along with the churches; we can make a difference. It is time that we stop ignoring the crisis and become a part of the solution to solve the crisis.”
“I think if we look back historically at where we have succeeded have been our past civil rights crisis. As you heard today Mr. Runcie indicated that this is the social justice crisis of this era. The churches played an integral role and are the center point of our communities. It is the epicenter of the African American community and if we can get the churches, the pastors engaged and committed to this issue, I believe we will there-in also have the professions engaged in this process as well, “added Pettis.
Superintendent Runcie has been one of the biggest advocates of implementing special programs designed at turning around what many see as the number one issue facing our community; that being the education of Black male students in our public school system.
“I would say there’s a stronger focus in this District on insuring that every child is going to be positioned to be successful, that we’re going to do whatever we can as a District, we’re going to work collectively along with the community to give our students an opportunity at success. Now we at the District must insure that all students have it very clear. The data received shows that the students who are struggling the most are African American students and in particular Black males. We’re talking about 20 to 30 percentage point deferential when you look at the data whether you look at graduation rates, you look at advance placement success, you look at SAT scores, you look at FCAT proficiency, it’s a tragic situation and it’s going to tear and tear at the fabric of our society if it’s not addressed. And as a leader in this community I’m absolutely committed to insuring that we as long as I’m around will need the support of the community, but I want the community to know they’ve got a leader in the Broward County Schools that is committed to addressing this problem and insuring that all of our children are successful and this issue in particular of Black male students will begin to turn around, and we will continue to make progress year after year.”
Runcie added that he felt the entire community must become involved with promoting a strong public schools system which gives every student irrespective of race, socio-economic background, or the neighborhood they come from an equal chance to succeed.
“The community has responded very well. I think it is one of those issues that has always been the big elephant in the room: Folks may talk about it behind closed doors but there were not a lot of significant conversations in public about it. At least now it is moving to the stage where there is dialog on the streets, there’s dialog in the churches, there’s dialog in living rooms, Folks are really talking about it and of course, we’re talking about it openly in the District as a School Board institution like we’ve never had before. The first part of treating the problem is acknowledging that you’ve got one. So I think we’ve done a good job of doing that; we’re also highlighting the fact that we’re doing some good things in the District. We’ve got programs in place we need to get to scale and take those things that are working well from one school, from one community and move it to the next school to the next community. And just continue to grow.”
Mentoring Tomorrows Leaders (MTL) is one of those programs which has experienced a measure of success. The program specifically targets at risk Black males on the high school level. MLT evolved from the African American Male Student Achievement group, which began at Plantation High School. A year later instructor Patricia Lesesne who also participated in the panel discussion, helped further develop the MTL program at Boyd Anderson High School. The MTL program pairs successful high school upperclassmen with incoming freshman. Students who have been a part of the program have made dramatic progress and have either graduated or are on track to graduate. In addition a number of participants in the MTL program have gone on to attend college.
Panelist Jeff Williams, Chairman Black Male Task Force, which falls under the Title 1, Migrant and Special Needs Program Broward County Public Schools, has seen firsthand what happens when Black male students are equipped with the tools to help them achieve success as outlined by Superintendent Runcie.
“Students can and will learn. We must tell their success stories and connect education to real world scenarios.”
Panelist Dr. Rosalind Osgood recently was elected to serve on the Broward County School Board representing District 5. Dr. Osgood has worked for years to address the socio-economic ills which plague the African American community here in Broward County. Dr. Osgood is an Associate Pastor at the New Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale and President of the Mount Olive Development Corporation (MODCO). She encouraged others from the faith based community to become actively involved also.
“In the Black church and in the Black community is where the true leadership lies. We’re in an educational crisis in our community so our pastors must move the Gospel from the pulpit to the pavement; that it becomes the social gospel meaning that faith must come alive and must be intentional from a faith based perspective about impacting our kids as it relates to their education. It is paramount to the success of our community as people of faith we have an obligation to tear down the strong holds that keep our minds tied up and that’s to provide an opportunity and empowering and educating and equipping our children to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”
Tiandra Johnson attended the breakfast. She has four children who attend school in the Broward County Public School System. Johnson’s daughter is a high school senior at Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale who plans on attending Howard University this fall. She shared her concerns regarding the staff cutbacks which had occurred at her daughter’s high school.
“My biggest concern was having students and parents having access to good information. I see that there is information out there as far as resources for their education; they don’t have access to Broward Advisors for Continuing Education (B.R.A.C.E.) at their schools like they should. So they need more guidance as far as programs and pathways to success.”