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Focus on black students’ progress in DPS

The academic performance of African-American students in Denver Public Schools will get a close look Saturday in a wide-ranging program at Manual High School.

The Colorado Black Round Table is hosting a community education forum billed as “Improving Outcomes for African-American Students,” with Mayor Michael Hancock and DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg among the scheduled participants.

Kicking off at 9 a.m., the program is ambitious in scope and will be tackling issues that have challenged educators, parents and community leaders for decades.

“I’m not seeing a whole lot of improvement,” said Sharon Bailey, a DPS board member from 1989 to 1995, who is currently chair of the CBRT committee on education.

“I’m hearing a lot of anecdotal kinds of things, and that’s why we’re trying to pin down some specific data and develop a profile of African-American students within DPS, trying to get everybody on the same page — stop the finger pointing and work more collaboratively to improve outcomes for African-American students.”

Bailey said she sees two groups of DPS schools – one group serving higher numbers of minority and poor children but producing lower achievement and another group that is serving lower numbers of minority and poor children and posting stronger performance: “There is a problem with that.”

DPS statistics show that those contributing to Saturday’s program will have plenty to talk about – and sizable challenges to tackle:

  • While African-American students make up about 15 percent of the DPS student population, they received a disproportionate 29 percent of the out-of-school suspensions handed out in 2010.
  • The on-time graduation rate for African-American students for 2010-11 was 57.9 percent. That’s short of the 65.8 percent rate posted by white students, but ahead of the 50.6 percent rate posted by Hispanic students.
  • The performance of African-American students on 2011 state exams lagged that of their white classmates. For example, 28 percent of black students scored proficient or above in math compared to 67 percent of white students. In reading, the proficiency rate for African-American students was 42 percent compared to 77 percent for white students.

DPS at-large board member Happy Haynes, who graduated from East High School in the same 1971 class as Bailey, will take part in a discussion at Saturday’s event, “Educational Equity and Excellence in the New Landscape,” that will also feature Hancock, Boasberg and school board president Mary Seawell.

“I feel a sense of frustration,” Haynes said, “but the frustration is borne out of the belief that there is something that can be done, the recognition that things can be better, things can be improved and that we can make some strides.”

Achievement gaps were a reality when Haynes and Bailey were in school, she said, noting, “It wasn’t spoken of in so many words but nonetheless it was there, and I think it’s a part of the overall legacy of segregation that persists to this day.

“There is still a long way to go, in my view, but I think there definitely are some steps that can be taken and partnerships that can be forged that can help move us along. We certainly should be further along than we are, here in 2012.”

Saturday’s event is sponsored by the CBRT in partnership with DPS, the NAACP and the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver.

Urban League president and CEO Landri Taylor, who also sits on the recently convened Denver Education Compact – an initiative launched by Hancock – will not be able to attend. However, Taylor said he hopes it represents a significant step in improved educational achievement for Denver’s African-American community.

He believes the event will minority parents more aware of programs and tools already available under the DPS umbrella to help them and their children.

“It’s a dual responsibility, for DPS to get that information out there on a broad basis,” he said, “but it’s also a responsibility for parents to seek that out.”

Two of Taylor’s three now-adult children went through DPS schools.

“I was a very engaged parent, K through high school, with my kids,” he said. “I didn’t know that I had a choice, to be, or not.”

Saturday’s program will open with a lifetime achievement award presentation to former DPS superintendent Evie Dennis, the first woman and the first African-American to hold that position. It will end at noon with a community question-and-answer session, followed by a meet-and-greet opportunity with DPS administrators and staff.

Manual will also be the site from 2 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon of a similarly-themed program, “The State of Black Colorado Education: Are We Making the Grade?”

The later event is organized by northeast Denver native and community organizer Jeff S. Fard, founder of Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in Five Points.

Both events are free and open to the public.

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