In order to reach minority parents and their students, the Fairfax County Public Schools must first reach out to the local churches.
"The black church for example, has a large congregation and we don't utilize it as a resource to get information out to parents," said Sylvia Washington, a teacher and member of the Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee. "There are many of our parents in the churches. We have a ready-made base."
The oversight committee, which presented its report to the Fairfax County School Board Jan. 28, sees establishing a partnership with the religious community as one of several pieces of a proposed "Closing the Gap" initiative aimed at focusing more academic attention on minority students.
As of 2004, seniors will be required to pass certain English, math, science and social studies Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in order to collect a diploma at the end of the school year.
The committee reports that in 2001, nearly 40 percent of black and Hispanic students failed end-of-course SOL tests. In addition, for most of the 30 percent of the FCPS schools that are struggling with SOL scores (provisionally accredited or accredited with warning) most of the student population is made up of minorities, the report says.
<mh>Reaching the Parents
<bt>The oversight committee suggests a Closing the Gap initiative for each school along with resources for the corresponding committee including parent/teacher stipends, transportation and snacks, cultural competency training for all staff, expanded hours for parent liaisons and partnerships with faith- and community-based organizations.
In addition, a parent outreach effort, with the help of the partnerships, should be established that publicizes the promotion and graduation requirements, promotes advocacy for obtaining needed educational services and establishes a Parent Institute for the targeted "at-risk" population as an alternative to traditional parent outreach programs.
Although the committee does not know how much such a plan would cost, "If we truly believe all children can and are willing to learn, we must be willing to go the extra mile," Washington said.
As a way to help keep parents informed about key testing dates, graduation requirements and other education-related issues, the committee is creating a manual which should be available later this month.
"Parents can't be placed in isolation," said committee member Ralph Cooper. "Nobody asks, 'When is the first day of school for the parents?'"
Cooper said the aim of the manual is to make the language simple enough so anyone can understand it, especially given that in some cases the student is the only person in the family that speaks or reads English.
Another idea is to create multi-language public service announcements for various ethnic-based television and radio stations that provide families with basic information and contact names.
"Parents are key to the process [of educating children]," Cooper said. "Parents don't want you to evaluate them. They want you to help them."
The committee also supports expanding the Project Excel and Success by 8 programs.
<mh>Identifying the Gifted
<bt>In addition, the committee made recommendations concerning the hiring and retaining of minority teachers and changes for the gifted an talented program.
"The number of Asian, black and Hispanic teachers has not kept pace with the numbers of minority students," said committee member Jin Choi, also a member of the Korean YMCA. "Our recommendation is to have an interview process to find out why minority teachers are leaving."
Currently, the county does ask employees to fill out an exit survey, but the survey is anonymous and does not contain ethnicity data nor is it mandatory.
The report says that of the 1,633 exit surveys mailed to former employees from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 805 returned the surveys. The results shed little light on the issue of minority teachers.
As for the GT program, the committee supports the implementation of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test as a screening tool for the program and encourages the expansion of the Young Scholars program, at a cost of $125,000 for summer school classes, $150,000 for staff development and $2,500 for a consultant.
Not enough minority students are being guided toward gifted and talented programs, the report asserted.
"We are dissatisfied. Our children are not being included in advanced programs," said Judy Howard, a committee member. "In the 1998-99 school year, black and Hispanic students were 2 percent of the GT program. In 2000-01, black and Hispanic students comprised less than 1 percent. That's only 693 blacks and 510 Hispanics [of a total 15,415 students] that were in GT programs. Gifted children are found equally at every level, in every culture and ethnic group."
As a result, the committee is recommending establishing a target of at least an 8 percent increase in minority participation in GT programs by the end of the 2002-03 school year and that cluster directors hold schools accountable to meet this target.
Other strategies include a test preparation course for the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology entrance exam, increasing participation of minorities in GT Centers and offering staff development that focuses on identifying giftedness in under-represented populations.