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Originally published Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 4:54 PM

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Seattle Public Schools plan to close African American Academy misguided

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson cites a budget deficit of $24 million as a reason to close the African American Academy and four other schools. But reasons given by the district for closing the academy, including low academic performance and low enrollment, are not well-founded. District data shows academy scholars are performing on par with or above a number of schools across the district.

Special to The Times

AS a community educator, I am concerned about the well-being of all who attend Seattle Public Schools. Of immediate concern are the students — called scholars — and their families at the African American Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade alternative-choice school located on South Beacon Hill.

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson cites a budget deficit of $24 million as a reason to close the academy and four other schools. But reasons given by the district for closing the academy, including low academic performance and low enrollment, are not well-founded. District data shows academy scholars are performing on par with or above a number of schools across the district.

The district must be a partner and work with the academy's principal, its leadership team and the community to build on the scholars' demonstrated academic achievements.

Results from the 2008 Washington Assessment of Student Learning test showed Academy students, when compared with other schools with black students, ranked in the top 15 to 50 percent in reading and math for eight of 12 grade levels. Scholars showed the greatest growth in math on the 2007-2008 Math Benchmark Assessments.

The academy and other schools with high percentages of low-income students receive Title I federal funds. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the academy is expected to restructure this coming year because its test scores have not kept pace with annual yearly progress.

But the academy is not alone. Twenty non-Title I schools in Seattle are also not making annual yearly progress, yet they are not slated for closure.

Despite inadequate district support, the academy shows academic improvement and is poised to move closer to closing the achievement gap for scholars in the elementary and middle-school grades.

Since its inception in 1991 when the Seattle School Board established 10 alternative schools to "eliminate disproportionality in Seattle Public Schools and increase academic achievement as a priority until such time the achievement gap has been closed," the African-American community has stepped forward to do its part to support the school.

The Greater Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., collaborated with Black Child Development Institute and Tabor 100 businessmen to establish Friends of the African American Academy (FOAAA) and coordinate volunteer services in the school. Black Child Development Institute obtained a Washington state Reading First grant for the school. The grant was recently renewed for another two years. The academy was recognized by former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson for outstanding achievement and significant improvement in reading.

An upswing in the school's WASL reading scores in third through seventh grades can be attributed to the academy's reading and literacy staff and resources provided by the reading grant. Academy community collaborations have expanded learning opportunities and these programs include arts and education activities with the Seattle Symphony ACCESS Project and Sherman Clay of Seattle.

The academy was designed to be a K-8 alternative-choice school that could expand to 12th grade. Award-winning African-American architect Mel Streeter modeled the school on the cluster concept of a West African "Dogon" family village to reinforce the value of family in a child's learning process.

The academy is more than an architectural jewel — it is the beacon of educational promise and hope for African Americans in Seattle. Dr. Geneva Gay, University of Washington professor of curriculum and instructions, wrote about the African American Academy in her book "Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice," and as a result the school is known across America for its unique program and learning goals.

The academy is important as one option on the menu of educational strategies. The academy offers smaller class sizes and a pedagogy that helps students catch up academically and excel. Students are encouraged to make school a top priority, and are helped in better understanding themselves and the social conditions around them

Gayle Johnson, is president of Greater Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., an African-American women's volunteer service organization of 10,000 members headquartered in Washington, D.C. The local chapter was chartered in 1955 to enhance the quality of life for African-American youth and families.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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