Over the past several weeks, there have been multiple articles I could have written about things happening at Manchester City Hall or on Hecker Street (HQ for the Manchester School District). However, the reasons I stepped down from my seat on the Board of School Committee, demands of family and business, have prevented me from spending the time necessary to publish the desired posts. However, a recent article in the NH Sunday News, entitled “Activists say whites don’t realize how pervasive racism is in NH” published incorrect information that did a real disservice to both the city of Manchester and its school district, causing me to make the time to correct the record. (Note: I’ve been working on this as best I can for the past four days. Much has happened over that time but time doesn’t allow me to address it here.)
Where to start…
Reporter Mark Hayward wrote that Black Lives Matters (BLM) activist Ronelle Tshiela said:
“Students who attend heavily minority elementary schools such as Beech Street and Wilson are at a disadvantage compared with students at schools such as Green Acres.”
There is no explanation of what “disadvantage” is, which has more than a few people to conclude the city isn’t providing “adequate resources” to these “heavily minority elementary schools” while ensuring that Green Acres has all it needs. Truth is, nothing can be further from the truth.
During both my terms on the school board, I served on the finance committee, including a term as its chair. I can tell you, unequivocally, that both Beech Street and Wilson elementary schools received substantially more funding, programs and services than Green Acres. Both schools received substantial funding via TITLE I and other federal grants. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. These grants provided technology, curricular materials, staff training, parent outreach, student assessments, behavioral training and a laundry list of other materials and programs that were never made available to Green Acres, which didn’t qualify for that funding.
Why clarity about the “disadvantage” wasn’t provided or sought by the reporter is anyone’s guess but you should know that, if anything, Green Acres simply doesn’t receive the funding or support that these two schools, and others with similar demographics in the city, receive. It’s not even close.
The article more than implies that minority students are somehow actively kept from accessing AP and other honors classes, quoting BLM activist Elijah Kendrick, who attended Memorial, Central and West during his high school career, who said he “had (honors level) teachers look at him and ask if (he) was in the right class.”
There is no explanation of how many times this happened or the circumstances in which it happened. Was it one teacher? More than one in the same school? Was it a teacher or teachers at multiple schools? Was he new to the school? Known to the teacher? Did he stay in the class(es) or did he withdraw? If he stayed, did he perceive the teacher(s) as prejudiced in any way? The list of questions about this statement could go on for a while and could include why he thought the question was motivated by race.
Why does the above matter? Once upon a time, I was accused by members of the Granite State Organizing Project’s (GSOP) YOU program of saying that “minorities weren’t qualified to be teachers” during a school board meeting. As I said no such thing, I demanded a meeting with the GSOP and my accusers. The accusers refused to be at the meeting but GSOP Executive Director Sarah Jane Knoy, after being forced to admit I said no such thing after reviewing the record of the meeting, told me that what I said was “irrelevant” because I “was responsible for the students’ ‘interpretation’ of what I said.” (Oh, really?)
In failing to dig into the details, we’re left with vague statements that leave a damning impression and may do so falsely. Conversely, if there is substance to the young man’s interpretation of what was asked, we’ve missed an opportunity to correct what caused it.
Adding to the unmistakable implication that minority students are kept from upper level classes, the article quotes Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt. While saying “we cannot allow lowered expectations to stunt the intellectual growth of any of our learners” the article reported that he wanted “to dramatically increase the number of minorities and impoverished students in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses.” Goldhardt’s comments lend credence to the idea that the district hasn’t done much to address the enrollment of poor and or minority students in college level courses when that is just not true.
One good thing that came from Superintendent Dr. Debra Livingston’s administration was how it addressed the issue of underrepresentation. Surveys done of parents discovered that parents of both minority and white students were largely unaware of the district’s AP and other upper level course offerings. In response, the district basically did three things:
- It embarked on an educational campaign for students and parents.
- It paid for all high school sophomores to take the PSAT exam to help determine, in addition to their grades, which students had the aptitude to take AP courses.
- It invited all students whose PSAT scores indicated they were capable of taking AP courses to enroll in them.
The district experienced two things in light of this effort.
- More minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged white students enrolled.
- The numbers of kids who dropped the classes after the first week or so jumped, leaving many classes with unacceptably low numbers of students, though there were, overall, more kids of all kinds in these classes.
Perhaps Goldhardt, nearing his first anniversary at the helm, was unaware of this history but the reporter certainly was not. It would have been helpful if someone had not only mentioned the district’s efforts, for which it was praised by the College Board (praised again by the College Board) (praised yet again by the College Board), but also that a lot of kids of all kinds dropped out when they figured out it was going to be a whole lot more work than they were used to.
For the record, there is, and always will be, more we can do to facilitate higher levels of achievement by all students. I do believe that the “soft bigotry of low expectations” is an across the board problem in the Manchester School District. The point is that Manchester has done much in this area and deserves to be recognized for it, not condemned as a place where white teachers ask black students “if they’re in the right class.” Leaving that impression damning and just wrong and unfairly ugly.
Goldhardt’s comments did reference students in poverty and that’s important. Before departing Manchester, Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas made the case for “de-leveling” Manchester’s schools, arguing that it would improve student performance, especially for minority and poor children. What the data showed, however, was that socio-economic demographics and family situation were far greater factors in student achievement than race. If memory serves me, the top performing students in Manchester AP classes were black middle-class girls from a two-parent home. (Click here to watch the presentation. Unfortunately, the minutes of the meeting aren’t on the school district’s Web site.)
Enter Sudi Lett, a Central High School coach who is the GSOP’s “youth and education coordinator.” Lett was among those agitating for a special seat at the table for a YOU student from the GSOP to sit as an ex-officio member of the school board. As usual, he had much to say that wasn’t well rooted in fact or reality but it’s what he didn’t say that displays deep dis-ingenuity.
He said that saying racism exists in the schools is “like saying the sky is blue” and he supported the demand that Manchester “offer an ethnic studies class that would showcase historical black accomplishments and leaders,” saying:
“We need to learn about leaders that look like ourselves because we don’t have teachers that look like ourselves.”
According to the article, he also criticized the school board for taking two years to approve allowing a student to sit on the school board (NB: Not sure that’s actually happened, yet. Just sayin’.) questioning “what the school board’s response would be if students with the last names of O’Shaughnessy or Davis pushed the issue.”
Asked Lett, noting that the students pushing the issue were black,
“Do you think they (students names O’Shaughnessy or Davis) would be celebrated for their work or pushed out?”.
First, and for the record, I want to state that when these issues came before the board during my terms, I pushed for an overhaul of our history curriculum and said the schools needed to do a better job teaching all of America’s history, including “black history,” which is uniquely American history, all of it. (Click here for a related Op.Ed. on the topic published in The Union Leader.) We short-change our heritage by not accurately teaching what has transpired. Moreover, we allow the dangerous narrative of the revisionists dedicated to the destruction of the United States when we fail to not just teach what happened but why it happened. The failure to educate students about the times in which history happened leaves them without context and unable to know, never mind understand or appreciate the struggles and challenges those contemporary to their times faced. This has allowed for the demonization of our Founding Fathers and The Founding of this great nation whose motto, E Pluribus Unum, means “From Many, One.”
What Lett left out in his condemnation of the past board as racist for opposing seating not just students from GSOP on the board but ANY student, is that Ward 3 School Committee Member Mary Ngwanda Georges, an African refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a past member of GSOP’s board of directors (which is dominated by white liberals) and a mother of several children who went through Manchester’s schools was among the majority opposed to the measure.
In wake of her opposition, GSOP and several of its backers, including white leftists like former school board member David Scannell (D-Ward 2), whose wife sent Georges a racist screed accusing her of betraying her own kind in voting against seating a student on the board, State Rep. Mary Heath (D-Ward 7) and others opposed her re-election. Instead they, and the Manchester Education Association, which always preaches about diversity and backed the call for a student to be seated on the board, backed Georges’ opponent, Karen Soule, a white, elderly, radically liberal, native, who scored a very narrow victory over Georges. About the only Democrat who came to Georges’ aid was Ward 4 Committee Member Leslie Want. She was abandoned by all others, including Mayor Joyce Craig, who claims to want diverse voices in the discussion when the truth is it’s only if they agree with her leftist agenda.
Like so many people of color who “think the wrong way,” meaning for themselves, Georges was threatened, ostracized and ultimately tossed out of office by the very same people who continually claim we need “people who look like us” in public office to ensure “our point of view” is part of the discussion. If that point of view departs from the leftist orthodoxy, the leftists depose those with that point of view.
There is more that could be said about this article and other points it makes. However, this post being already long and its purpose to correct the disservice done to the schools by those who are either not conversant with the facts or simply ignored them in the making of their points didn’t go unanswered.
If we’re truly going to have a discussion about race in the schools, and over the years I’ve been involved in countless of them, then we need to avoid painting everyone and everything with the broad brush that uses vagaries, generalizations, implication and falsehood to condemn. Neither everything nor everyone has a racial animus. Pretending like they do prevents us from being able to identify and correct real instances.
It is not, and will never be, possible to realize Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of judging one by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin if everyone is labeled as part of a group, assigned the group’s characteristics and not allowed to be an individual apart from the labeled group they’ve been assigned to by those who wish to break down society into groups of villains and victims for the purposes of setting one against the other to gain power. That is what Karl Marx did in The Communist Manifesto and that’s what Saul Alinksky taught everybody how to do in Rules for Radicals. It is un-American and, as we’ve seen, very dangerous to the very fabric of our country, which stands unrivaled in the annals of history for its demonstrated desire and ability to right wrongs throughout its history.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or submit another view for publication.
~Richard H. Girard