As a board member, last week, I attended the adult education graduation and listened intently to the important and timely comments of the keynote speaker, W. Va. Delegate, John Doyle (D- Jefferson, 67).
He said, “There is a sign plate on my desk that reads, Eschew Obfuscation.” and went on to explain that to eschew is to decline and that to obfuscate is to confuse.
In other words, his message was to, “Be straight with people.”
Doyle continued by saying that being straight does not mean being rude and that we can be honest with each other while at the same time, be considerate and compassionate.
He added, “Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson believed that the sole purpose of education was to train people for citizenship, and we need you to be citizens, whether it’s here or in the community or in some other … Please participate in civic life, in whatever way you think best. As citizens, advocate your points of view clearly, but also respect others’ points of view. Be willing to listen to new ideas, regardless of who offers them.”
Listening, I thought of how hypocritical we adults are. We are telling our students to be kind to each other, yet people come to the board meetings and attack one another.
Most recently, during the discussion regarding the Black Math Genius Program, speakers attacked the program and its coordinator while several in favor of the program implied that those who were not in favor of the program were racists or unconcerned about the “achievement gap” between black and white students.
We teach our children to be honest and straightforward and not keep secrets. Yet, there has been a complete lack of transparency concerning the Black Math Genius Program.
Initially, I saw two Black Genius program positions posted, one for a teacher and one for a supervisor. When I asked if the board was required to approve any positions first, they were removed by the next day.
A few sentences were sent to the board about the program, but my follow-up questions asking for more detail were never answered. The positions were listed in a different way — ultimately three different times, three different ways and none of the three match what is currently posted on the JCPS Job Opportunities website.
Additionally, board members became aware of posters advertising and recruiting black students to attend the program. The board tabled the program for lack of information.
A “special board meeting” was called last week to vote on a third version of the positions—one teacher, one facilitator/teacher. If there was no indication it meant it was a supervisor position. At no time were position descriptions provided to the board. My questions remained unanswered — the cost, the curriculum, how will the effectiveness of the program be evaluated, etc.
After I read a prepared statement about my concerns over the lack of transparency, I was disconnected from the Zoom meeting and did not get to hear the rest of the conversation or vote.
Waiting to be re-entered into the meeting, I considered whether it was possible for the board to deny the program when at least 54 families had already registered and been promised access to the program that had not been approved. They went on to approve the two positions.
Now, I see four positions posted, three for teachers and one which appears to be a supervisory role for the summer Black Genius Program. Yet, the board did not approve four positions. The board approved two positions.
This brings me back to Doyle’s plea to the graduates— Eschew Obfuscation; and the irony that the very institution trusted to guide our school system refuses to demand transparency and accountability.
By not demanding transparency and accountability in the Jefferson County Public Schools, we are perpetuating the creation of the sort of governance which leads to the destruction of the very institution we were voted to protect. We are also sending the message that we have lower expectations for some groups and their advocates. How does that change a core problem in our schools — lower expectations for black and brown children, blatant racism towards black and brown employees, etc.?
I support programs that help our students, and I vote for principle, process and being fiscally responsible. I believe in following protocol and expect others to do the same.
I look forward to the creation and implementation of solid programs that support our traditionally marginalized students, closing the achievement gap and eliminating the practice of having lower expectations for minorities in the Jefferson County Schools. If we raise the bar, students and employees will not only meet, but surpass expectations.
Spending upwards of $100,000 for a five-week program is not going to create Black Math Geniuses. We must address the bigger issues which include low expectations, and grade inflation to push kids through, etc.
Let’s start by not crowding black kids into special education classes and instead, by challenging them in Honors and Advance Placement classes. That money could be used for tutors and after school programs, year-round to help close the achievement gap.
This issue does not just concern our black and brown children. All individuals need to see people of color in the highest positions so that they begin to accept the fact that it is possible for non-whites to achieve, thrive and lead. So, I say to you all, this is a “race” issue, but it is not about skin color. It is a race to achieve accountability and transparency in our school system before more black, white and brown geniuses fall through the cracks.
- Joy is a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.