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School starts Monday — Is the system Black-student friendly?

Critics blast District for excessive testing, lack of accountability and inadequate resources

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/14/2013, 10:09 a.m.
“As the money rolls out, there should be more of our own people, not just those handpicked by the school ...

Last Saturday afternoon, several hundred children, along with their parents, teachers and others from the community, gathered on the football field of Northwestern Senior High School — apparently excited about the start of another school year. But upon closer examination, it became evident that not everyone was optimistic. In fact, the ‘hot topics’ that were shared with this reporter, ranging from the FCAT, to failing schools, a lack of needed resources and frustration over a “disconnect” between the State Board of Education and local officials representing the Miami-Dade County Public Schools [M-DCPS], seemed to indicate that Blacks have little confidence that their children will have much to smile about by the time the end of the new school year concludes next June.

One parent, Ericka Millien, 45, was with her eight-year-old daughter who is entering the third grade. Her statements centered around the FCAT.

“Get rid of that test and stop making it so difficult for our children to succeed,” she said. “We need more activities for students that are educationally and physically related. At a time when Blacks are particularly suffering from inadequate resources, now we hear that the County plans to close libraries in our areas. Ours should be the last ones that are closed.”

Community activist Gary Johnson said he’s heard the promises to the Black community before and doubts that any of them will come true.

“We need a more transparent process, especially as it relates to the school bond that Black voters supported,” he said.

“As the money rolls out, there should be more of our own people, not just those handpicked by the school superintendent, to make sure Black-owned businesses get their fair share. Just look at how things went during the last bond issue. Our schools got very little and our businesses got even less.”

Parental involvement could be the solution

Dr. Yvonne Perry, the newly-appointed principal at Holmes Elementary, is a 23-year veteran with M-DCPS. She says that her immediate plans include strengthening kindergarten and first grade at her school — one that has certainly seen its share of academic setbacks.

“We’re a ‘D’ school on paper because with the new rubrics, the State could not drop us two letter grades,” she said. “But we’re actually an ‘F’ school. I’m going to put our very best teachers in the first two years of schooling so that our children get the best instruction possible when they first enter school. Beyond that, it’s going to take us finding a way to get our parents to get a lot more involved. I took my teachers out to Liberty Square recently and we knocked on doors. Many of them have given up on the school system but we have to show them that we care about them and their children.”

School Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall says she understands why Blacks are so pessimistic.

“The history indicates that we have been made promises before that were not kept by those at the top,” she said. “Once again Blacks supported the bond — now it’s time to collect. We deserve our fair share and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.”