By Louis King
For the first time in my 15 years of observing the leadership addressing the achievement gap, we finally have all that is necessary to move the ball. We must recognize, organize, mobilize and capitalize on the opportunity before us. We have no time to waste.
First, we have district leadership, in the form of a superintendent who has demonstrated the willingness to take risks and to demand high standards. Dr. Bernedeia Johnson’s proposal to bring in a high-performing charter school at North High defies the normal boundaries imposed by the teachers union.
Further, she demanded that all kindergarteners perform at a high level and set a deadline in the face of teachers who said that it could not be done. In both instances she showed the kind of courage that is needed to foster change. I congratulate her for the inspirational leadership.
This breath of fresh air is complemented by two new forces in the African American community who, despite obvious differences, share common agendas and recently joined forces to express concerns over a proposed school board policy that would have interfered with the superintendent’s fiscal management authority. The matter has been tabled.
The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) and the Community Standards Initiative (CSI) are respectively corporate middle class and grassroots efforts that share a common agenda based on solid values and individual responsibility. There is no grandstanding or public competition. They are about business and have the potential to score big gains for the community. I do not say this lightly.
The leadership trilogy is completed by the exceptional educational leadership provided by Eric Mahmoud at Harvest Prep and Best Academy. The example that he has set is historical. Harvest Prep beat the state math average 82 percent to 58 percent. At Best Academy, 100 percent of the eighth-grade boys were proficient in reading, and 100 percent of the third-grade boys were proficient in math.
Overall, even with 300 Somali students, Best Academy beat the state math average 61 percent vs. 58 percent. And, Harvest exceeded the state average in reading 77 percent vs. 75 percent. Of course, 91 percent of the kids are on free and reduced price lunch, and 99 percent are of African descent.
These results speak for themselves and force all three parties to reflect on what is needed to join forces and bring these efforts to scale. There is no room for criticism of the district. There is no need to debate what to do.
The real challenge is to develop a solution that maximizes the opportunity for African American kids, especially boys, while sharing the success with the district and providing Mahmoud with the resources needed for success. This is the responsibility of leadership. It allows us to move beyond the current efforts that are yielding the current results.
Further, initiative for action must come from the community. The market must speak. We have the most to gain and the most to lose. Undereducated children of any race cannot meet their responsibilities as workers, parents and citizens.
This is a call to the community leadership to create a sense of urgency to take advantage of this opportunity and encourage the district and the Harvest/Best consortium to find a partnership that benefits the children and strengthens the community. We must have educational institutions that prepare children for their roles while producing educational leaders who can build upon the success that the children have demonstrated they can produce.
Finally, it has been noted that innovations that help those in the most vulnerable conditions benefit the majority of the population as well. The clearest examples are curb cuts designed to benefit the disabled. Today, runners, bikers, and mothers with strollers also reap the benefits.
It’s only fitting that the Harvest and Best Academy math performances with poor Black kids may hold the keys to success for the 42 percent of students across the state and the 35 percent of White students who did not demonstrate proficiency in math. This is the macro opportunity before us as we struggle to maintain our competitiveness as a region in a global economy.
Indeed, all of our children must learn. And, the lessons learned from poor Black children in North Minneapolis can serve us well. Fortunately, we have the leadership to get the job done. What we do not have is time to waste.
Louis King is president/CEO of Summit Academy OIC in Minneapolis. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.