“If I had gone to school in Monroe, Mich., instead of Monroe, La., I would have ended up in Jackson prison instead of Jackson State [University],” said Selma Rankins.
MONROE - Monroe Public Schools - and especially its Lincoln Elementary - need to do a better job of educating black children, the Monroe County NAACP said yesterday in a challenge to school officials and the community.
“If I had gone to school in Monroe, Mich., instead of Monroe, La., I would have ended up in Jackson prison instead of Jackson State [University],” said Selma Rankins, a longtime physical education teacher in Lincoln, who actually attended Grambling State University.
He is the only black teacher in Lincoln, where about 15 percent of the pupils are black. Throughout the district about 5 percent of students are black.
Many of the 14 people who spoke at the NAACP's meeting in the New Faith Temple Church in Monroe said Lincoln and the district need more black teachers, who they said can better relate to black youngsters.
Almost all the parents, school employees, alumni, and area residents who spoke said they want to see more discipline, higher test scores, and higher graduation rates among black youth, which are lower than those of white teenagers in the district.
Tina Campbell, who was a secretary in Lincoln last school year, said of the elementary school on East Second Street on the city's east side: “The children run the school. I work at another school now, and it's night and day.”
Many of the speakers, such as Gwendolyn Myers, a Monroe High School social studies teacher, said racism is much of the problem.
“We have two sets of rules at our high school. One for the black kids, one for the white kids,” she said.
Superintendent David Taylor, who did not attend the meeting, said in an interview afterward that is untrue.
“Anyone who says it is fabricating,” he said. “The rules are the same.”
The district has taken many steps to improve the graduation rate of black students, he said. It spends more per pupil at Lincoln Elementary than at any other elementary school, with the possible exception of Hollywood Elementary.
At least half of Lincoln's students qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family incomes. Thirty percent of the district's students fall into the low-income category.
He said that recruiting black teachers is a nationwide problem and that the district has a black principal in one elementary school. Test scores at Lincoln have improved in the last year.
Mr. Taylor attributed some of the NAACP's unhappiness with a change in how children who misbehave are dealt with in Lincoln. The old policy was to send them home. “That is not education, in my mind,” Mr. Taylor said.
The school now has a much more open, much less punishment-oriented style of management, Mr. Taylor said.
Several speakers called for more emphasis on black history and suggested the schools close for Martin Luther King Day, although they acknowledged that the holiday is celebrated with various events in the schools.
Mr. Taylor said the schools do not close for Presidents' Day either.
“Martin Luther King didn't believe in kids being out of school,” he said. “He believed in kids being in school, if you read his literature and speeches.”
Many of the speakers at the NAACP meeting urged parents to take more responsibility for their children's education and become more active in the schools. Some also suggested that black adults help children whose parents are not good role models.
Milton Lafayette Jackson II, pastor of the New Faith Temple, urged the about 50 people attending the meeting to put aside their differences with each other and take charge of their children's futures.
“The teacher's not gonna raise your kids,” he said. “The principal's not gonna raise your kids.”