Parents and guardians of African American students in the Rock Island-Milan School District are being invited to join in the launch of the African American Parent Advisory Council.
Council creator Tiffany Stoner-Harris, district parent and a board of education member, said her aim is to create a safe space for parents, guardians and caregivers of African American students to connect and increase district engagement.
“Really the council should be a place for parents to be able to gain an understanding of district practices and use that information to see how do we decrease systematic barriers,” Stoner-Harris said. “How do we create positive, specific interventions and approaches.”
She said those barriers may be hard to name, but part of the council’s mission is to give parents a voice and help them identify the problems that may be in their student’s way and preventing them from performing at the highest levels.
She said Black students make up the second largest student group for Rock Island-Milan and they are also the population that quite often falls into the lower tiers in terms of proficiency. According to Illinois Report Card data, the district’s 2019 racial diversity was 42 percent white students and 31 percent Black. Hispanic students made up 12.5 percent of the district.
Stoner-Harris said she had hoped to launch this council last school year, but COVID-19 and other issues caused delays. She said the greater impact of COVID-19 on the African Americans population and the racial violence and civil unrest that have occurred have highlighted the need for it.
She said the council is no different than a parent-teacher association or the district’s building leadership team in that it is aimed at how the district can provide additional supports to students in whatever ways that can help African American families.
Stoner-Harris said she has been in talks with superintendent Reginald Lawrence since the end of last school year to address some of the lack of connections she’s seen with African American families and to express her concern about the lack of representation on district committees.
“It feels like, for whatever reason, there isn’t a lot of traction being made in connecting with African American parents,” she said. “... It just seemed like the right thing to do to create a space for African American parents to connect.”
Stoner-Harris said families may feel safer knowing they’ll be meeting with other African American parents, or they may find they are facing similar issues and needs.
Stoner-Harris said she believes there’s been a long history of a gap between the district and the African American community, and that it stems back to equity and inclusion issues. The district first contracted for cultural competency work in early 2016.
In a letter to families following the death of George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, Lawrence said the district is committed to continuing cultural competency work.
In his June 1 letter, Lawrence wrote, “While we have a ways to go, let this serve as an awakening call to our community and our school district to embrace our diversity. In RIMSD41, we will continue our work in weaving cultural competence throughout every aspect of our school day. Let us all begin to reflect more on our beliefs, our rhetoric, and more importantly our actions moving forward.”
Parents can join virtual sessions from 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, or Saturday, July 11, on Google Meet. The video link is meet.google.com/kdf-mtrt-gkq, or families can join by phone, (US) +1 252-772-1088 PIN: 211 630 418#.
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