Arch Brooks’ experience in the Columbia Public School District spurred his determination to try to change the system — from the inside.
“When I was in elementary school, my family moved to the white neighborhood,” he said. “We were not allowed to go to Grant School because we were African-American. The only school we could go to was Douglass. You have a tendency to remember that.”
This is Brooks’ third attempt in as many years at a seat on the Columbia School Board. Though he has not been elected, he said he thinks his presence would inspire and educate other members to strive for equality for students of all backgrounds. He also made an unsuccessful bid for mayor last year.
In his 2004 campaign, Brooks provided information about his qualifications for the job on his Web site and in handouts that later proved difficult to verify. Questioned earlier this month about his education and community service, he declined to comment and abruptly ended the interview.
Brooks, owner of Brooks Computing Systems, said he is campaigning for a school board seat on his desire to establish trust between the board and the community.
“This administration has to stop pandering to the affluent society, get into the community and stop cutting minority jobs,” Brooks urged at a school board candidates forum. During the forum in February at Hickman High School, he also invited the audience to visit his church, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Brooks said that too many children in Columbia’s public schools are slipping through the cracks and that plugging the leaks in the system is achievable.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “How many Ph.D.s does it take to get K-12 children through the system? We’re doing basic stuff, and there shouldn’t be any shortcomings. We should be able to slam-dunk any test.”
Brooks said increasing the number of minority staff members, in addition to implementing diversity training programs, would help reduce the achievement gap between blacks and whites. He said this would send a message to teachers that racial bias would not be tolerated in classrooms.
“We want a human mentality,” he said. “We want all students respected. We want them all treated fairly, and that hasn’t been the case at Columbia Public Schools.”
Brooks said the schools should make better use of new technologies and spread them out more equally among students in different areas. He is also concerned that minority children are unjustifiably tracked into special-education programs.
“With the multimillion dollar budget the Columbia Public School District has, I think it is absolutely absurd and ridiculous that something like No Child Left Behind would throw the district into a tizzy,” he said.
He differed from most of his opponents on the subject of the importance of student-to-teacher ratios.
“I think that the issue of class sizes is a bit of a red herring,” he said. “What you should focus on is the quality of education. When the students have no further question about the information that is taught, then you have an acceptable level of instruction.”
“For too long, too many areas have been neglected, especially those that have to do with minority relations,” he said. “From the ’50s, when Dr. Shaw was superintendent of schools, up until 2005, the Columbia Public School District has not been interested in hiring minority teachers to work in the school district.”