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Saving Our Sons – And All Our Students


As the new school year begins we need to remind ourselves to see what has changed in our educational system especially for African Americans and other groups that may need exceptional examination to protect our civil rights. For the first time in many years, the responsibility of educating students is returning back to the states. The U.S. Department of Education has approved Missouri’s state plan for public education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Missouri’s plan is a commitment to ensure that all students have equitable access to high-quality education to help prepare them for success in school and life. Implementation of the plan begins now, fall of 2018. The plan calls for the inclusion of stakeholders most importantly parents. To help reach that goal, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has outlined strategies addressing access, opportunity and equity, as well as support and development for teachers and leaders.  To diagnose and address sources of inequity and school failure, thereby, support the success of all students, Missouri has committed in its ESSA accountability plans to measure the following indicators:


  1. a) The high number of students not meeting Proficiency
  2. b) Lack of adequate and relevant preparation of high quality educators – Teachers and Leaders
  3. c) Extremely high Disproportionate Suspension and Expulsion Rates
  4. c) Low Early Postsecondary Opportunities
  5. d) Combating Chronic Absenteeism
  6. e) Not Embedding Cultural Competencies in all school practices


Public schools belong to the community and the community engages educators to watch over the social, emotional, and academic performance of all students. The dilemma is – who is responsible for the high number of African American students not being able to meet the social, emotional and academic expectations? And what are the reasons? It is past time for all of us to monitor the aforementioned indicators in each and every school.

In the last two years, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis has been involved as an advocate of education equity and excellence in all schools representing the voiceless as the State was developing its education plan to submit to the federal government. This work has been very invaluable in many ways but most importantly it created the communications needed for us to continue to advocate in a meaningful and proper way. It’s our responsibility to follow up, making sure that our schools are actually educating ALL of our students and the ESSA plan is a great start to hold everyone involved accountable.  In addition, ESSA prepared the agency with a specific agenda to share with the community. The Urban League plans to follow up by mobilizing and organizing Parents; as well as other Community allies. The Agency plans to provide a platform to share information, which will allow us to learn together and collectively demand accountability from their schools to ensure that all students succeed.


The vision that all students must learn at high levels, equipped with the skills and knowledge to successfully compete in today’s global competition can be realized and is premised if they are afforded a rich and demanding instructional environment in which priority is assigned to strong and well-prepared teachers and school leaders at each school. That’s why it takes an extraordinary leader with specific identified skills to lead such a lofty vision.


This is an opportunity for schools, districts, and community leaders to take action to create equitable outcomes for all students as stated in the ESSA plan. Together we can experience significant, positive results. The Urban League is addressing the cause and effect of student failures working along with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to impact policy changes. The plan is designing a strand of training and development for 65 principals of schools, with the lowest 5% student performance. In particular, urban districts such as St. Louis will likely make up a majority of the principals of schools to be identified under ESSA in fall 2018. In the past such actions were determined solely by the district and the state department of education. However, this provided us the opportunity to advocate from within based on data on the needs of principals in the lowest 5% of schools and to identify strong leaders for the lowest 5% of schools.  This is a great start because a leader for equity works to eliminate achievement gaps and ensure success for all students by identifying and addressing personal and institutional bias and barriers and providing strategies to ensure all students have equitable access.

Our students deserve a fair attempt at receiving a relevant and rigorous education and our state needs to take the ESSA opportunity to set continuous large-scale goals, provide educators the support they need, and hold schools accountable when service is not being delivered as designed to meet students’ success. Simultaneously, parents need to be organized and should hold schools, districts, and the State accountable.


Organizations like the Urban League were obliged to embark on new initiatives such as ‘Save Our Sons’ because of the high demand of unemployed and undereducated black males who were left behind due to a second-rate education with no future. Anecdotal data of the young males in Save Our Sons demonstrates that they were educated throughout the St. Louis region which indicates the black male dilemma of suspension, low academic performance and drop outs is in almost all school districts in the region.


Save Our Sons is a unique program which provides soft skills training and wrap-around services such as HiSet/GED Training, clothing assistance and food pantry to African American males in need. Since it started in 2015, more than 500 men have gone through the program and found jobs with a 90% success rate. One of our recent success stories is Ventarius Johnson, a 17-year old who was orphaned in his early teens and dropped out of high school. After enrolling in the Save Our Sons program, Johnson was able to find both gainful employment, get promoted in his first three months on the job and finish his HiSet/GED. We are very pleased with his outcome and happy to say that there are many other young men who are fulfilling their purpose through the Save Our Sons program.


While the staff of the Save Our Sons program are working with the young African American men who are falling through the cracks of our educational system and avoiding the prison systems, it is also imperative that we advocate for our children who are still receiving their education in the public school system. What happened in the last 25 years or so can be lessons learned not to repeat the same mistakes. Under the ESSA plan, the equity concerns can now be detected and addressed because they are highlighted as the critical role of school principals’ performance accountability in providing high quality learning opportunities for all students as well as emphasizing strategies for identifying and attending to areas of educational inequity. The Urban League is prepared to support the community in this important life changing endeavor. Together, we can and will make a difference!


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