Superintendent appoints city’s first director of African- American Male Achievement
on September 23, 2010
In a surprise announcement during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Tony Smith named Chris Chatmon, of the organization 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, as the district ‘s first director of African American Male Achievement. The creation of the new position, which is supposed to focus on identifying and reducing institutional racism in education, is a part of Smith’s 2010-2015 Strategic Vision for OUSD.
“We have a specific need to serve African American male children in Oakland,” said Smith, citing the higher rates of arrest, death by violent crime, and school drop-out for African American males in Oakland. “It’s crucial to the health and wellbeing of our city.”
Chatmon has worked extensively with youth in the past through the multiple roles he has played at YMCA. Immediately prior to his appointment, he was Principal at Youth Chance High School in San Francisco, a small alternative school run by YMCA San Francisco. He is also a member of the Bay Area chapter of the professional group 100 Black Men, which provides scholarships and mentoring to African American Youth. Funding for Chatmon’s new position is provided externally from OUSD by local organizations the East Bay Community Foundation and Urban Strategies.
The news of Chatmon’s appointment met with enthusiastic applause from board and community members alike. “I had no idea what was going to transpire today, but we appreciate the nomination of brother Chris,” said Kim Shipp, an African American community member and advocate who attends most school board meetings, who brought her son, two nephews, and three great nephews with her to Wednesday’s meeting.
Shipp’s relatives – all young men, ranging from 5 to 28 years of age – filled out speaker cards before the meeting, and each spent a few moments speaking to the board about the important role that their families had played in shaping their academic achievement and personal value systems. Shipp said her decision to have African American male youth speak on the same night on Chatmon’s appointment, while oddly appropriate, was a coincidence. School board Director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge applauded the superintendent for addressing issues of race, even if it meant “pushing people to a place of discomfort to talk about it.”
According to the Superintendent’s Strategic Vision Report, the lowest performing students in OUSD are African American males. In standardized testing for Oakland in 2008, 26% of African American males were reading proficient by third grade ,compared to 79% of white males. Only 7% of African American males were able to pass ninth grade standardized testing for algebra, compared to 51% of white males.
In a sobering reminder of the issues facing youth in OUSD, Student director Nikita Mitchell asked for a moment of silence during her report in remembrance of Raymen Justice, the 17-year-old high school student at Life Academy of Health and Bioscience who was fatally shot Tuesday evening near the 1200 block of MacArthur Boulevard.
Mitchell’s report also contained reports of classroom overcrowding at Oakland Technical High School, student concerns about school safety, and a shortage of lockers. Director Alice Spearman voiced concerns about students not being able to get classes due to overcrowding. “That’s not acceptable that students are not able to take their core classes,” she said.
Director Jody London responded to Mitchell by suggesting that youth write letters to Sacramento to urge legislators to pass the budget in order to fund solutions to student concerns. “We are on day 86 of no state budget,” she said. “Students need to stand up and demand what is rightfully yours from the state.”
In district funding news, the school board also approved an agreement with the Chabot Science Center, the museum and teaching facility located in the Oakland Hills, to extend repayment of the $8 million outstanding debt the center still owes OUSD from its original $10 million loan in 1999. In what is known as a “lease lease agreement,” Chabot will lease its facility to OUSD for $1 per year, and OUSD will lease it back for $450,000 until the entirety of the debt is paid off. If Chabot fails to make its payments in the future, OUSD will have the right to take over the facility, which sits on city-owned land.
Prior to the agreement, Chabot was unable to make the payments, whose interest rates had risen to about $1 million per month, said Vernon Hal, OUSD’s chief financial officer. He emphasized the mutual partnership between OUSD and Chabot in serving children from OUSD. As part of the agreement, OUSD students will now receive free admission to Chabot, in contrast to the perevious 50% discount.
Director David Kakishiba said the new arrangement would take “a bad situation and made it into a more favorable situation for this school district,” although he questioned whether the district should have made the $10 million loan to Chabot in 1999. “At a time when the school district was at its height in enrollment and overcrowding, we had no right to enter into this deal,” he said. Despite his feelings about the initial loan, Kakishiba ended up voting in favor of the new lease-lease agreement.
Director Alice Spearman, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the lease-lease agreement, questioned the decision based on limited student access to the facility. “Even though they’re saying our students can go there for free, we have to get them there,” she said, adding that neither the district nor schools had the money to pay for buses. “You either pay, or you go about your business. I don’t like this. I really don’t.”
Pictured in lead photo: (From left to right) Cameron Shipp, 28, Marcus Garrette, 16, Daniel Marshall, 15, Sheldon Shipp, 12, Desonn Shipp, 7, and Jacob Shipp, 5.
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