MONTCLAIR, NJ - On Wednesday February 7, residents and educators gathered for part 3 of a week long series sponsored by TURN (Teachers Undoing Racism Now) in Montclair.
Entitled Getting Real About Education in Montclair: A Conversation with Black Parents, Teachers and Students, the event was held at the Renaissance School on the campus of Montclair High School, the event was in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter in School week of action.
Moderated by Montclair educator Rodney Jackson, the open conversation focused on issues of fair treatment, parents advocating for their children, how to handle problems with teachers and administration, hiring of more black teachers. They also discussed ways to combat some preconceived prejudices of students and their families based on the color of their skin, financial situation and family make up, either intentional or unintentional.
Montclair Public Schools has come under fire from parents for the hiring and retention of black teachers (especially males) in its public schools, as well as for the high amount of black students (especially males) suspended or placed in low academic level classrooms.
In a town as diverse as Montclair, parents have expressed that they feel the classroom does not reflect the cross section of the population that currently resides in the township. With the majority of teachers being Caucasian, many parents in attendance expressed that it presents a cultural dissonance.
Joann Childs-Ash said, "Children have a tendency to do better in school when they see people that look like them and can relate culturally as it relates to their concerns and issues of African American children and their families."
Jennissa Arnettette added, "My biggest concern as a parent is trust. Its important that children have an adult in the building that they can relate to when it comes to matters that can be viewed as culturally sensitive, when children feel safe and cared about they will learn."
Jackson stated that parents wanted to know how teachers and the administration can better relate and treat black parents. "Through this conversation, we were able to identify a few pointers that fall in line with TURN's Mission to end the zero tolerance rule and focus schools on restorative justice and actions."
He continued, "It follows through with the Black History ethnic studies mandate K-12 and the hiring of more black teachers in the Montclair Public School System, all of which need the support of black parents and the community at large."
The following points reflect the overall discussion of action steps for aiding parents in advocating for their children:
1. Establishing a BILL of RIGHTS for parents. - This would provide parents insight of what questions to ask, who to contact and allow parents to be better prepared in advocating for their child's educational needs.
2. Teachers developing a relationship beyond the classroom. - This would be beneficial for educators to engage with children and their families in community and cultural events and outings.
3. Balance of discipline with understanding, compassion and fair treatment.
4. A stronger representation of black parents as part of the PTA. - Helping parents understand the importance of attending school board meetings and voicing their concerns and issues as it relates to the education of their children.
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