Friday, July 14, 2017

Hempstead Community: Black Public School Children Don’t Matter by Bernard Gassaway

            Let’s agree that Black children in Hempstead don’t matter. Then we can stop the charade and the futile efforts to change and improve schools under the guise of caring about children.

            I find it extremely troubling that too many people have accepted, through their actions, that Black children do not matter. I am not one of them. 

            The purpose of this message is to focus on ways residents of Hempstead can change from accepting an education culture of dysfunction, corruption, and incompetence to promoting and supporting a culture of community, care, and competence.  This can best be demonstrated by strategically and conscientiously investing in our children’s education.

            A responsive and accountable school governance structure is essential to a good educational system. Hempstead’s current public-school governance (its school board) is dysfunctional and corrupt, which makes it impossible for children in Hempstead to receive a quality education. What is required to change the school board’s unaccountable, nonresponsive, and irreverent culture? First, let’s explore how we got here. Then we can focus on how to change.

            People remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by an assassin’s bullet.

            As longtime Hempstead residents, where were you when the hope of public school children of Hempstead was assassinated? When did the despicable and deplorable acts of corruption begin? Why does this continual cycle of corruption and incompetence persist, with apparent acceptance from community stakeholders, including politicians, clergy, residents, parents, teachers, and school officials?

            By any reasonable measure, the Hempstead Public School Board is depressingly dysfunctional. Sadly, this reality is likely to continue unless the community residents awake from the deep and depressing disposition of believing and accepting that things won’t change.

            Too many people in Hempstead appear to accept the current school system and are convinced that things will never change because that’s the way it has been, that’s the way it is, and that’s way it will always be. 

            When I speak to residents of Hempstead about public schools, they speak of the school system with such dispassion and disconnection. Educators whisper for fear of retribution, especially if they live in Hempstead. Some quietly argue that too many people who work in the system got their jobs through corruptionthis reminds me of the Machiavellian notion of the ends justifying the means.  

            Here’s what I know. We cannot blame children. Among all stakeholders, children are the most resilient. They are geniuses and deserve a fertile foundation from which to learn and excel.

            We cannot blame parents because they have limited to no options other than what the public school system has to offer, which is not much considering the overcrowding conditions and outdated infrastructure of school facilities, not to mention the poor quality of instruction and the limited course offerings.

            I will not accept that Hempstead is hopeless, as many longtime residents seem to believe.

            I offer the following immediate steps to begin to address the dysfunctional, corrupt, and incompetent school board. However, you should know that any effort to improve the public school system must be based on common individual and community beliefs and values.

We must:

·      Invest in our children. Address the education crisis as if it were a life-threatening virus. Repurpose our current spending patterns to maximize available funding.

·      Value family. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring families together.

·      Value community. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring residents together.

·      Organize local clergy to strategize on how to support and empower parents to participate meaningfully in the educational process.

·      Convene a planning summit of local government, grassroots organizations, clergy, and public school officials to devise a plan to replace the current dysfunctional school board. Establish criteria for school board membership, including selection and removal.

·      Create five- and ten-year capital plans to upgrade, renovate, and construct state-of-the-art school facilities. Devise a short-term plan to remove trailers.

·      Partner with businesses, colleges and universities, and grassroots community-based organizations to embrace and value education as a community obligation.

            In 1955, the Montgomery Improvement Association played a pivotal role in a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days. How long are you prepared to plan and promulgate policies and programs to improve opportunities for a sound education for children living in Hempstead?

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