DR. DIONNE V. MCLAUGHLIN IS A DURHAM PARENT WITH TWO BLACK SONS. SHE IS ALSO A FORMER PRINCIPAL, AN AUTHOR AND AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN THE H.M. MICHAUX JR. SCHOOL OF EDUCATION AT NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL UNIVERSITY. HER NEW BOOK, “PERSONALIZED PRINCIPAL LEADERSHIP PRACTICES: EIGHT STRATEGIES FOR LEADING EQUITABLE, HIGH ACHIEVING SCHOOLS” WAS PUBLISHED ON JUNE 2.
“Black student lives matter”
The tragic, senseless and untimely death of George Floyd has caused many to question, “Do Black Lives matter? Do Black students matter?” We have reached a point of discourse in our nation where the question about the value of Black life has been expressed through protests and outrage. The clamor for racial equity and justice will not be quelled with apathy, placidity or inaction. It behooves us to seize this moment to incite change. We can emulate what others are doing well and create our own success stories right here in Durham.
The academic performance of Black and Latinx students is disconcerting. Even with the strides made over the past three years in Durham Public Schools, with increases in reading composite scores, math composite scores and English II scores, staggering gaps still persist between Black and white students. In English II, white students outperformed. Black students by 40.1 points in 2019, and in Math I, white students outperformed Black students by 31 points.
To make sure that my Black sons did not mirror prevalent negative statistics, I hosted academic playdates, became a fixture at teacher meetings, was extremely vigilant bout classroom placement, enrolled my sons in the AVID program, monitored report card comments for bias and made sure my sons enrolled in Advanced Placement and Honors courses. They are both athletes – Paul (soccer) and Michael (lacrosse) – co-captains of their respective teams, club leaders and have worked as lifeguards since they were 15. As an administrator, I treated my parents’ sons as if they were my sons. I created a CARE Team/Academic Plan process to individually monitor and improve the performance of 150 underachieving students, and I hired additional staff to provide remediation and tutoring during the school day. I conducted equity professional development and equity classroom walkthroughs. My focus was not solely on “fixing kids,” but on repairing broken systems that have allowed so many children of color to underperform.
As an assistant professor working with aspiring principals, my life’s work is communicating with teachers about successful practices, advocating for equitable and racially just environments, and sharing the practices of principals who have been successful in their work with Black and Latinx students. In my new book, I outline eight practices that schools can utilize to increase the achievement of Black and Latinx students. These practices are based on 18 successful public schools where 80% or more of Black and Latinx students are proficient on the state’s standardized English and math assessments:
• Personalize the data: Each data point is represented by a student name and a face;
• Generate principal-directed student equity learning goals and promote equitable learning environments by conducting equity audits;
• Get the right teachers – who can lead discussions about equity and racism, are dedicated to student success, call on everyone, are passionate and maintain structured classrooms – and monitor the implementation of culturally proficient instruction with equity-focused walkthroughs;
• Increase teachers’ cultural proficiency by introducing the Cultural Proficiency Continuum, equity downloads and equity execution as strategies for operationalizing equity work in schools;
• Infuse highly structured, comprehensive intervention systems for individually monitoring student performance;
• Obtain student voice data through equity listening tours, student surveys, student equity panel discussions and a high school course on race, gender and human behavior and make it an integral part of school improvement;
• Create academic affinity groups and scholar support programs for African American and Latinx students, like Bridge to Calculus and ChemCafé;
• Explore anomalous approaches like inviting Black parents to be part of learning walk teams, be willing to meet parents wherever and whenever they are available. Create parent needs assessments, tap into parent expertise and build trust, connection and understanding. Partner with local businesses, restaurants, car dealerships and supermarkets to provide financial and in-kind donations for academic awards, student incentives, teacher appreciation and parent events. Collaborate with the Durham-based Village of Wisdom parent group for Black males.
If we believe that the lives of Black students matter, then it is our responsibility to create schools where Black students can be successful. It is time for Black students to really matter in our schools.