Inland Empire Black Parent Summit
By Dianne Anderson
Dr. April Clay and a colleague recently got a taste of what local Black parents go through on a daily basis.
Walking into one school district office, they were mistaken as parents and received less than a warm welcome, until they identified themselves as consultants on site to attend a planned meeting.
The mood in the room changed quickly.
“The treatment I got standing there as a parent was very different than when I told them that I was there for the meeting as a consultant,” she said.
Unfortunate, but typical, it was not surprising. She said that it’s precisely the kind of invisible wall that prevents Black parents from connecting with staff and teachers, even when trying to volunteer. They often face unfriendly school environments that keep them away.
“It’s not just in San Bernardino, it’s happening all over,” said Clay, who has worked as a consultant and education advocate for nearly 20 years.
She is inviting Black parents to come out for a day of parental empowerment, to share their concerns, and learn their rights. They can meet up with other like-minded parents to learn how to advocate for their kids.
On Tuesday, April 16, the event will be held at Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga, featuring keynote speakers Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White, and Dr. Daniel Walker. The event runs from 7:30 a.m. To 2:45 p.m.
She believes the more that parents show up in a united front, the better it will be to help promote positive policy in the future.
How to fix the disconnect between the Black student achievement gap, the school system and the absence of Black parents at meetings is the missing piece of the puzzle, she said.
“We go to our kids’ awards night, we go to our kids’ games, we go to activities,” she said. “We don’t go to meetings because it’s not the kind of spaces where we get our needs met or treated with respect.”
Through her many years serving professionally, and volunteering as a concerned parent, she recognizes how policy decisions are slipping past the community. She said that when the community is not at the table, and does not fight for the vote, they usually don’t know what happened until after the decisions are made.
She is also concerned with the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which allocates more money for schools with higher concentrations of high needs students, English learners, low-income students, and foster youth. That funding can be tweaked to meet the needs of Black students, she said, but parents have to be present at the meetings to have a voice in how it’s spent.
Looking across the data, the achievement gap for Black students is indisputable. While money flows down specifically to close academic gaps, she said it’s not targeted or funneled to support Black students in the same way as other subgroups.
“The state has moved to remove race as a factor, we have to find other ways to include ourselves,” she said. “Once our parents understand LCAP better, they can advocate that the dollars get specified for Black students.”
In getting African American parent participation, timing is also important.
Districts hold regular meetings about funding, but getting parents in on the process to understand and review the available funding is critical. She feels districts can get better about working around parent schedules, such as Saturdays and in the evenings.
Taking time to build relationships is a big part of the equation.
Not long ago, she watched one district presenter at a meeting spotlight what seemed to be a lot of dollars spent on African American student achievement. But, she noticed the current year dollar amount was lumped together with a defunct program from the prior year’s funding cycle.
It was misleading.
“I asked that they remove the last year’s dollar amount. It gives the impression that more money is being spent on Black students than there really is,” said Dr. Clay, CEO and director of Clay Counseling Solutions.
At the upcoming event, law officials will be available to answer tough questions to help parents understand their rights.
Clay said Black students are increasingly at risk at school, or in the classroom, or on the street with law enforcement, and it’s important for parents and students to learn how to navigate the system better.
“Our children are at risk because they’re in the environment. It has less to do with their behavior and more to do with the culture and climate right now,” she said.
One priority for the upcoming meeting is to get more Black parents from the community to participate in the African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC).
Even though there are many battles to fight and to win, she is encouraged.
“I think we’re going in the right direction as a county. More AAPACs are being born, but we have more work to do,” she said.
To get to the meeting, or involved with AAPAC, see http://www.claycounselingsolutions.com