By Joey Williams
It is common belief that only the wealthiest and most connected members of our community have power and know how to use it.
This simply isn’t true. Grassroots leaders, parents and students can unite to organize themselves to have a powerful voice in creating change that instills fairness and equality, because education is the key to upward mobility and success for all students.
The Kern Education Justice Collaborative, or KEJC, started a little more than two years ago united by a common goal: address the alarming rate at which students of color were being suspended and expelled.
Nationwide, from 2009-2012, 1.50 students out of 1,000 were being expelled. In California during the same time frame, the rate was 3.49 per 1,000 students. At Kern High School District, the number was shocking: 54.47 students per 1,000. And for Latino and African-American students the numbers were even higher. Latino students were being expelled at a rate of 65.85 per 1,000 students, while the number for African-Americans was 110.21 per 1,000 students.
These numbers were unacceptable, and the KEJC — comprised of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Faith In Action Kern County, California Rural Legal Assistance, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Children’s First and Building Healthy Communities-South Kern — was formed to do something about it.
The first step was to educate the public about this crisis. And we did — through personal visits to families’ homes, parent and student conventions, workshops, seminars and a variety of other ways. Once the community became engaged, it wasn’t long before they felt empowered.
Dozens of parents, students and family members raised their voice at KHSD board meetings, public venues and in media reports. They were in search of justice, and eventually, their work was rewarded.
The Local Control Funding Formula is a new way of funding schools. In fact, it’s now California state law that school districts must spend dollars generated and allocated by the LCFF on low-income students, foster youth and English language learners. The LCFF further mandates that eight priority areas need to be considered. Parent engagement and school climate are two of these areas.
The community focused on this formula and these two areas to improve the educational environment for their children. In 2015-2016, the community will see the results of their work.
KHSD will spend $2.59 million to improve the school climate for students. Specifically, the money will help the district implement positive behavioral interventions and supports and restorative justice districtwide. These approaches are proven to be much more effective and successful ways to discipline students.
Among other things, KHSD will also hire four regional PBIS intervention specialists, eight additional counselors and conduct trainings on implicit bias. Finally, and most importantly, the district has agreed that it won’t spend additional funds for security personnel.
For parent engagement, KHSD will dedicate $1.18 million to establish eight new parent centers to assist families, conduct workshops for parents and to train school staff about how to work most effectively with parents and families.
Certainly, this is progress, but all of these programs still need to be put into practice. It took a tremendous effort, but KHSD eventually responded to the community. Now we look forward to working with the district to make sure that these programs are implemented effectively and to create new ways to help all our students succeed and achieve to the best of their abilities.
Joseph “Joey” Williams is the lead organizer of Faith In Action Kern County.
This story originally appeared in the Bakersfield Californian on August 13.