Black parents' group renewed in St. Paul

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2011 - 10:32 PM

After years of inactivity, members are hoping to get more parents involved with schools.

St. Paul school administrators are hopeful that the recent revitalization of a black parents' advocacy group will begin to heal a tumultuous relationship between the district and the black community that has lasted for years.

Despite having long-standing and active Somali, Hmong and Latino advisory groups, the black parents group, called Parents of African American Students Advisory Council (PAASAC), has been inactive in the past three years.

This school year, however, the group -- with the help of the administration -- has met three times and now has 16 members.

The group, which serves as a liaison between administrators and parents, is hoping to get more parents involved in their children's education through community forums, enrollment campaigns and conversations with Superintendent Valeria Silva.

"We want to do some roll-your-sleeves-up work," said Tyrize Cox, the group's facilitator and the district's family engagement coordinator.

Black parents for years have expressed frustration with the district's wide achievement gap between black and white students -- white students have continually out-scored black students on standardized tests. The suspension rate of black students also is five times higher than that of white students.

When Silva proposed her long-term Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan last school year, dozens of black parents showed up at board meetings wearing black, red and green "save our communities" buttons in support. Among other things, the plan would turn several magnet schools into neighborhood schools and drastically limit city-wide transportation.

That support waned, however, when shortly before the board was to vote on the plan, the city's NAACP chapter and African American Leadership Council said the plan would inadvertently cause the district to resegregate.

Silva has made it a priority to get out into the black community, making several radio addresses and speaking at churches.

"This administration is totally committed to rebuilding that relationship," Cox said. "The district wants to have a meaningful relationship with the community. Parent involvement is imperative for the success of students.

"If education is a three-legged stool, educators can't do it by themselves. Family and student engagement are the other two legs."

Craig Roby, a black parent of two students at Central High School and a member of the parent group, said he rarely sees black parents at the schools.

"We're the voice of reason," Roby said, "We need to get up there and make sure our children are doing what they're supposed to do. We also need to make sure school administrators are providing the necessary tools they need to be successful."

Cox said the committee's first task will be to get more parents to the parent information fair in January.

"We want to see families making informed, proactive decisions," Cox said. "We are urging parents to develop a greater level of desperation for success."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

  • WANT TO JOIN?

    Anyone who is interested in becoming a member of the Parents of African American Students Advisory Council (PAASAC), should contact Tyrize Cox at tyrize.cox@spps.org.

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