Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk announced Thursday a program aimed at eliminating chronic racial achievement disparities in the district.
With funding from a $600,000 grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, the school district will establish an Office for Educating Boys of Color, a multifacted approach to meeting the needs of primarily black and Hispanic male students.
School district spokesman Lisa Deffendall said black and Hispanic boys “are our most underserved demographic group on every measure of success.”
Fayette County will become the first school district in Kentucky to establish such a department of this nature, Caulk said at a news conference at Tates Creek High School.
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The grant will cover the cost of expanding existing programs that have a track record of success and piloting new initiatives. Each of the efforts is directly aligned to specific strategies in Caulk’s “Blueprint for Student Success.”
Calling it “a great day” for the district, Caulk said, “We are done studying problems, calling for task forces and shaking our heads at the data. Today we stand before our community to say we will no longer allow a child’s demography to determine his destiny.”
On measures of academic success, young men of color have lower levels of proficiency in Kentucky reading and math assessments than their white peers, regardless of socio-economic status, special need or native language. The most current data from the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress shows that 28 percent of young men of color scored proficient in math, and 33 percent scored proficient in reading. In comparison, 61 percent of white males were proficient in math, and 67 percent were proficient in reading.
The data has shown for years that we needed a comprehensive intentional strategy to address the needs of our boys of color. We believe this is a game changer.
Nearly three in four male students of color don’t meet the ACT benchmark score of 22 that the University of Kentucky suggests students need to succeed, whereas 67 percent of white males do. Boys of color are more likely to be suspended or drop out of school than their white counterparts and are less likely to be placed in gifted and talented or advanced tracks, Caulk said.
“There are departments in our school district for gifted and talented students, for students with special needs and for students who have a native language other than English,” he said. “It is time for us to acknowledge that this population of our students also warrants special attention.”
Urban school districts around the nation, including in Minneapolis; Oakland, Calif.; Dayton and New York City, have had similar departments for many years, Caulk said.
Several community leaders who attended Thursday’s news conference praised the initiative.
“I am suggesting we have a UK basketball-level belief in this project,” said Porter G. Peeples, the CEO of the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County.
Peeples, who for decades has called for the school district to intensify its efforts to close the achievement gap and has seen many efforts fail, warned Caulk at the news conference to beware of efforts from people who will want to “sabotage” the initiative.
“Everybody does not wish the best for these kids,” Peeples said.
Racial disparities have been a problem in Fayette County dating to 1972, when a federal judge ordered the district to integrate its schools. A decade later, the Lexington Human Rights Commission charged that the district had failed to correct racial imbalance. In 1985, a school district study found that black students in Fayette County were more likely than whites to be placed in special education classes, and to be punished and suspended from school, and less likely to be placed in gifted programs, Caulk said.
Over the years, many groups have been formed to study achievement disparities and make recommendations to the school board, including a 1988 Equality in Education Task Force, a 1993 Equity Task Force that led to the establishment of the Equity Council in 1994, and the 2002 One Community, One Voice blue-ribbon panel.
Previous efforts have not led to any significant changes in student outcomes, Caulk said.
“Since joining the Fayette County Public Schools less than a year ago, I have seen and heard a great deal of frustration in the community,” Caulk said. “The data has shown for years that we needed a comprehensive intentional strategy to address the needs of our boys of color. We believe this is a game changer.”
Chris Ford, Commissioner of Urban County Social Services, called Caulk’s effort a “bold step” and said Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council will support the efforts to close the achievement gap.
Caulk outlined six major projects that will be the foundation of the work: two each at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. Work will begin at the district’s eight “partnership zone” schools, clustered in Lexington’s north end.
The “Real Men Read” program will roll out at elementary schools, recruiting men to be mentors and spend time reading with the boys. Students will receive books through this partnership to increase their access to reading materials at home. Building on the success of the Carter G. Woodson Academy, the district will introduce this model at the elementary grades.
At middle schools, after-school tutoring programs will be established three days a week, and the Alpha League concept, designed to empower and inspire young males to develop leadership skills through educational activities, community service, character development and mentoring, will be expanded from six to all district middle schools.
Christian Adair, a Bryan Station Middle School teacher who founded Alpha League four years ago, said the program improves attendance, behavior and grades. He said the program is directed at middle school males of color, but white male students also are in the program.
Student Amir Roberts-Hassan said he has benefited from Alpha League.
“I love helping people in need. We go to God’s Pantry. It’s helped me with my grades, my attendance, respecting my elders, just everything that a young man needs,’” Amir said.
The district also will create a dropout-prevention program that provides relevant job-based learning for students who haven’t been successful in a traditional learning environment. A high school initiative, to begin at Bryan Station High School , will provide ACT prep and college readiness support, as well as targeted assistance for seniors who scored lower than a 22 on the ACT to help them prepare for success in college.
“While we recognize and honor the work that has gone on in the past, we must acknowledge that this grant represents the most significant investment to date aimed at removing these barriers,” Caulk said. “We know that for many of our students, education is a pathway to a better life. This is a collaborative, proactive response to ensure that all students have a chance to fulfill their unlimited potential.”
Work will begin immediately, Caulk said. “Our community will be able to track our efforts and hold us accountable for success.”