SPLC Complaint Shows Escambia School District Needs to Wake Up
Shannon Nickinson, Pensacola Business Journal, 08/08/2012
Elvin McCorvey hopes a federal complaint takes off the blinders he thinks local school officials are wearing when it comes to the fate of black students in their charge.
McCorvey was among the crowd at a news conference Tuesday where the Southern Poverty Law Center blasted Escambia and four other Florida districts for what it says is the way discipline disproportionately impacts black students.
“All children act the same. The difference is how they are disciplined,” said Stephanie Langer, a staff attorney with the SPLC.
McCorvey, with the Pensacola chapter of the NAACP, says he has met with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas about these issues. But he says Thomas “is in denial” about the depth of the problem.
After more than 30 years in the Escambia School District, McCorvey retired in 2003.
His work in the district included recruiting black teachers and serving as the equal employment officer.
The problems the SPLC cites are not new, says the man who clearly feels as if he has been shouting into the wind for a long time.
“They were happy to see me retire,” he says, ruefully. “I know that there are teachers who have a perception about kids because of where they live, because of how they dress. They don’t understand the culture that these children come from.”
The scant presence of black teachers and administrators adds to the lack of cultural understanding, he says.
That is another bone McCorvey has to pick with his former colleagues.
He recalls when there was a mentoring program for black teachers who wanted to pursue the administrative track that prepped candidates before they took a qualifying test for all would-be administrators.
Now he says the test is given first, before teachers get any formal mentoring opportunities, diminishing the applicant pool.
“Our teachers are frustrated, and it’s not fair,” he says.
When students see the education system as lost to them, it cripples their chances for a meaningful future. With no other direction, they look to less-than-ideal role models in their neighborhood for clues about how to get ahead. That road leads one place, fast.
“That school-to-prison pipeline is very real,” McCorvey says.
Thomas knows that some of his students come from neighborhoods where the “thug life” is real. His message to those students is stark: “Don’t bring that mess into our school. Don’t let what your parents expose you to affect what you do here.”
For some kids that is surely easier said than done.
Like our friends in the 12-step programs say, to solve a problem, you must acknowledge that it exists.
Originally published here