Addressing the systemic racism that leads to lower grades, higher rates of suspension, and long-term setbacks in life is the task of educators and the community at large. That was the message on Friday from Dr. Bruce Harter, Superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) at the 10th annual Sate of Our Schools Breakfast in a presentation that ranged from technical to philosophical.
The over 200 community members in attendance at the LaVonya DeJean Middle School multipurpose room lauded the Superintendent for his focus on addressing the impacts of systemic racial inequality, which, along with poverty and adverse childhood experiences, creates an opportunity divide in the community.
“If you look at suspensions by ethnicity…our African American population is 19 percent, but makes up about 38 percent of suspensions. That’s really sobering,” said Superintendent Harter. “When we point the finger at our students, we need to also point it back at ourselves and look at unconscious racism that happens in our community.”
The Superintendent noted that the school district has made strides in recent years in increasing graduation rates and English language performance of its African American and Latino students, a success he attributes to what he calls the district’s “Full Service Community Schools.” By increasing access to healthcare, deepening the relationships between parents and their children’s educations, and creating greater incentives for the district’s teachers to do well, WCCUSD has created a more supportive community for its students.
“This approach, that we call the ‘Whole Child, Whole Community’ approach, has made it easier to connect with students and parents and has allowed us to make learning more fun,” Superintendent Harter said. “That’s what this is really all about: making our schools a place where our students enjoy being and want to learn.”
The Superintendent also celebrated the work of five individuals who have had a positive impact on education in the district. Ron Martin from Keenen & Associates, Andrea Bailey from Chevron, Don Lau from YMCA for the East Bay, Cheerily Brunetti from Kaiser, and Teodora Ildefonzo-Olmo from the City of San Pablo were each honored for their unique contributions.
Throughout his presentation, the Superintendent celebrated the improved environments in the district’s schools, the increasing number of students taking AP tests, and higher attendance rates from elementary school through high school, information which can be accessed on the district’s Digital Dashboards, but cautioned that this student success is contingent upon the support of the community, which has room to improve.
“What we’re working really had to do is make sure that all of our kids are college ready,” Superintendent Harter said at the close of his presentation. “In order to be able to do that, we're going to have to make sure that we go up against the problems of adverse childhood experiences, poverty, and racism. This is our personal challenge as a community.”