Perata rallies religious community to abate truancy
on September 16, 2010
Don Perata is hoping to give people a little more faith in his campaign—literally. On Wednesday, the former senator and mayoral candidate hosted a breakfast with more than 50 of Oakland’s most influential religious leaders to solicit their help in addressing school truancy, one of the city’s most pressing challenges.
Perata, along with Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith and Assistant D.A. Teresa Drenick briefed the gathering of mainly African American bishops and pastors on the strain that chronic student absenteeism has placed on the community, emphasizing the “extraordinary” capacity that the religious figures had to help.
“We are the pulse of the community,” said Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church over eggs and bacon, explaining the enormous influence of pastors and houses of worship in Oakland, particularly among African-Americans. “Wisdom says that if you really want to get something done in the community, contacting the churches is a good start.”
Perata’s morning meeting yesterday was a public show of taking them up on their offer. Smith told the breakfasters at Z Café, on Broadway, that more than 2,000 Oakland high school students do not attend school every day, and between two and three thousand have stopped coming to school entirely.
The high truancy numbers are estimated to cost the city nearly $18 million per year, since school districts are funded in part according to how many students show up to class. Truancy is also believed to be a contributing factor in the city’s high crime rate. “When kids aren’t coming to school, that’s when bad things happen in the city,” said Smith.
Though there is much debate surrounding who or what is to blame for Oakland schools’ poor attendance, Perata and Smith agreed that their audience could help find a solution. “My answer to truancy is the faith-based community,” said Perata, amid murmurs –and, occasionally, shouts of agreement — from the crowd of religious figures. “Who better to go into the homes of parents who are not sending their kids to school, and help them understand their importance and responsibility?”
While religious organizations in Oakland, particularly African American churches, have a long history of providing social services to their community, Perata used the meeting to promise funding to faith-based agencies for truancy prevention related programs. Though no specific proposals were mentioned, Perata aide Dave Manson explained that each initiative would be tailored to meet the needs of specific neighborhoods and communities.
“One church may decide that they have a large space in their fellowship hall that they can partially convert into an afterschool computer lab,” Manson said later. “Another church may decide they have a large beacon program and point their beacons towards parent-child mentoring.”
As the last of the breakfast plates were cleared, support for Perata was palpable as the men of the cloth voiced their commitment to the mayoral hopeful as well as the truant students they hoped to help.
But one neighborhood local, passing by the meeting and looking through the window at the crowd inside, was more dubious when she learned why the breakfasters were there. “I haven’t been to church since I was 5, so I’m pretty sure there won’t be any pastors at my door getting my kids to go to school,” said North Oakland mother of two Etta Hays. “I’ll just have to do a better job setting their alarm clock.”
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