10/22/06 — Rev. Barber: Resources not equal for city students

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Rev. Barber: Resources not equal for city students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 22, 2006 2:11 AM

State NAACP president the Rev. Dr. William Barber says the problems in Wayne County's schools, specifically Goldsboro High, boil down to one word -- resegregation.

Barber, who serves as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, in addition to his duties with the NAACP, said his group has been speaking out for 10 years about inequities in the local school system.

He said the construction of new schools outside the central attendance area has created a version of white flight -- sending children who would otherwise attend city schools to schools just outside the city boundaries. And when they went, Barber said, the resources went along with them.

To fix test scores in the central attendance area, school officials and residents have to "stop the fast pace of resegregation and the inequities that go along with it," Barber said.

But until residents talk about the issue of resegregation, and address it, nothing will change for students in central attendance area schools, he added.

"There are all kinds of things flying around, people saying to close Goldsboro High School," he said. But the core issue, he added, particularly in the central attendance area, is the lack of diversity.

"You're not talking about 70/30, 80/20. You're talking about 100 percent resegregation and there are ways, if they decide to do it, that they could have the seats and the programs and the diversity" in the central attendance area, Barber said.

Barber discounted statements made by school officials that the central attendance area population includes many older, white couples without children in school. So, without a corresponding number of white children, school officials say, the numbers are skewed because there are simply more black families in the city area.

But Barber and others claim the construction of the additional schools around the city siphoned off the white families whose children attend Spring Creek, Eastern Wayne and other schools rather than central attendance area schools.

There was a time when it was simple math, he said - if you lived in the city, your children went to school in the city.

Since new schools have been built outside the city, students are not necessarily assigned to attend schools within the city limits. In his family's case, Barber said his children were assigned to Tommy's Road Elementary School even though their house is closer to North Drive Elementary.

That leads to unofficial redistricting, which makes no sense, Barber said.

"If you had a fire at your house in the city, you wouldn't call and ask for them to send a fire truck, 'but not one from the city; send one from Charles B. Aycock.' You would think that's ludicrous," he said.

Also contributing to the central attendance area concerns is the open transfer policy, which Barber says allows students to bypass city schools if they choose -- thus creating a diversity issue.

"Every time you build new schools, you have redistricting (but) it's as though this little hole -- the central attendance area -- doesn't get touched," he said.

Discussion about whether schools are good or bad would not exist if every resource, every opportunity were afforded to every school child, Barber said.

Instead of focusing on the current efforts to build new facilities, he suggested the debate center more around how to recruit and pay teachers. Magnet schools are also a way to create diversity, he said.

But the bottom line, Barber said, is that every school should have the same resources and opportunities for children, making the need to transfer obsolete.

"To have a discussion to say that curriculum is separate from facilities ... There ought to be some program design, some curriculum design as to why you're building facilities," he said. "We ought to be fighting for every resource that these children deserve by constitution, not by emotion. Let's have every school be a Tommy's Road, with the same level of quality teachers."

Barber also rejected the notion that the conditions and family situations of some of the children who attend central attendance area schools affect their performance.

He said that there is no correlation between the higher concentration of public housing in the central attendance area and the perception that parents of students in those schools are less involved.

And even if they are, he added, the obligation is to provide more for these students, not less.

"When you talk about adding on to other schools, we never bring up the issue of parental involvement," he said. "But when it comes to the central attendance area, that's the first thing that pops up. When we want to see other children progress, the issue of hiring quality teachers is the issue, the issue of access."

Poor people are some of the most moral people in the world and can be just as supportive of their child's education as those in the wealthier neighborhoods, Barber said.

"Part of the empirical data shows that when it comes to education, even though they may be poor, there's a difference when you have segregation in the opportunities, in the resources," he said. From a legal standpoint, children raised in poverty and low-wealth areas have not been afforded the same opportunities as other children.

When Goldsboro High came under fire last year for being among the 17 lowest performing schools in the state facing closure unless changes were made, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said the local school system had to be brought up to par, Barber said.

"Let's be fair. Let's be up front and have a comprehensive plan," he said. "Has anybody asked about examination of the ideas that we could use to recruit more teachers? Have we looked at all the high schools to see if we're offering the same things in curriculum and what's the plan for that?"

The issue is not whether new schools are needed in Wayne County, Barber said, but the quality of those that already exist.

"We have not said that we're against buildings," he said. "We're against a bond plan that's going to exacerbate resegregation. We know that if this bond passes, we probably won't see another bond of this type for 20, 30 years."

If taxes are going to be raised, Barber said, "let's do it right the first time. If you have empty spaces, use them."

Barber recalled former schools superintendent Ray Brayboy nearly a decade ago recommending the school system "put everybody where they're supposed to be and then build out of that. Don't build with false perceptions where they are."

And don't make people continue to pay for racism, he noted.

"If you grew up in segregation and that's your history and your family, get over it, but don't make people pay now," he said. "If anybody ought to be extremely dismayed by resegregation, it should be those who grew up in it. ... Are we going to pass this on to another generation? We're at a place now that we weren't at in 1972. (Then) we said that we were leaving that place. We don't know what kind of harm that does to end up right back there."