COLUMBIA – About 30 people gathered at St. Luke United Methodist Church for the first meeting of the Black Parents Association of Columbia Public Schools on Thursday night. Nathan Stephens, a founding member, organized the meeting to help provide a platform for parents' voices and opinions to be heard.
"The goal of the organization is to provide a visible, viable and vocal presence of black parents and support for black parents in Columbia Public Schools," Stephens wrote in a guest column on the Missourian Web site on Wednesday.
Part of the motivation behind the organization is also the desire to be noticed as a group whose members are engaged in their children’s education, Stephens said.
“Despite what others have said and are saying, black parents insist that many of them are engaged in their children’s education, contrary to comments in the newspapers, online blogs and radio,” Stephens said. “Members of the group insist that all parents want a good education for their children.”
Stephens mentioned he would like the group to eventually become a social event and a way to create school connections. The group would also like to establish representatives for each of the schools in the Columbia Public School district.
The meeting included a discussion of issues facing the group. Robin Hubbard spoke early in the meeting on the issues she cares about.
“Many of our problems come from lack of cultural understanding,” she said of the community of black parents. “Social distance is affecting educational achievement.”
Harry Williams brought up some issues he would like to see addressed, including improvements in reading and the ability for parents to see children’s old tests to better understand areas that need improvement.
School board member Ines Segert said she, too, has never been able to see any of her children's old tests. (Segert later contacted the Missourian to clarify: "My children's math tests and quizzes are not sent home," she said in an e-mail. "In order to see them, I have to make an appointment. I believe they should be sent home automatically.")
Latonya Douglas, a math teacher at Rock Bridge High School, brought up the point that they are not allowed to hand back tests because of specific regulations for future years' test questions. However, she said she is always open to having a sit-down conversation with parents to go over student problems.
Other participants said the real issue is one of parenting. “Let's not make this a black-and-white issue,” Jeff Edwards said. “Let's make it a parenting issue.”
While others agreed with Edwards, most also agreed that in order to solve any issues, everyone will need to work together.
Stephens' wife, Demetria, whom Stephens credits the association idea to, also pointed out the association is also there to help parents who may not be as well-versed in the school system as others.
In the meeting, the group decided it would like to meet regularly and also provide newsletters, a social Web site and forums.
On Thursday, Jan. 29, the association will host Mr. Okpara Nosakhere, who has “developed methods of differentiated instruction, which highlight cognitive areas of student life experiences,” according to a news release. “He believes that community and cultural standards play a significant role in the learning process of children.” Nosakhere has more than 25 years of experience as an educator and principal of multiple levels and various locations in the United States, including Michigan, Virginia, Georgia and Washington D.C.
For more information about the Black Parents Association, visit the group's Web site.