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San Diego Unified is rolling out a new plan to bolster the achievement of African-American and African students, groups that have traditionally lagged academically and are disproportionately likely to be disciplined or labeled with a disability. Its goal is to chip away at the racial achievement gap.

The $3.5 million plan is moving ahead without funding as the school district is heading into another year of budget cuts. Superintendent Bill Kowba said there could be no excuses for failing to act.

Almost 12 percent of San Diego Unified students are African American, including African immigrant kids. Compared to their white classmates, black kids are more than four times as likely to be suspended and a little more than half as likely to score well on state English tests.

“I will give you no rest until we do something for these children,” said Wendell Bass, one of the vice presidents of the Association of African American Educators, which spearheaded the plan.

Black educators first drafted many of the ideas more than a year ago. Bass and other educators applauded Kowba for embracing those ideas and personally meeting with them every month to hash out the plan. Kowba said the goal was to move ahead with changes that wouldn’t cost the strapped school district any more money, while waiting to scrape together funding to make other, more costly changes. The changes that it can readily make without extra money include:

• Piloting single-gender classes at Bell Middle School next school year. The idea is that single-gender classes could help avoid disciplinary issues that disproportionately impact African-American boys.

• Creating a uniform discipline policy so that schools do not enforce the rules differently. To ensure more consistency, area superintendents would have to approve expulsions.

• Principals will be expected to monitor and report on black students’ academic and personal achievements.

• Reassessing hiring practices to evaluate if any are unfairly disadvantaging African-American candidates.

• Mentorship and motivational programs such as guest speakers.

Changes that would cost money and will be planned for the long term include:

• Training all school district staff annually in cultural proficiency and sending them to conferences focused on black student achievement.

• Middle schoolers will create six-year plans laying out how they’ll complete the classes needed to apply to the UC and CSU colleges, which black students are disproportionately unlikely to do.

• Making a new student intake process where families and teachers sign a compact stating how each party is responsible for student achievement, starting in a year.

• Hosting workshops for black families on how to apply for college financial aid.

The school board is slated to get annual reports on district progress toward the goals. The four different parts of the plan will each be monitored and reported on by a different school district official. A task force will also continue to meet four times a year to keep up on how the changes are working.

“We’ve done this before — but it gets lost,” said Shelia Jackson, the only African-American member of the school board. “The goal is that it doesn’t get lost this time.”

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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