Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2009

 

The Remaking of a City: Oshkosh Wisconsin

 

 Sub-Head: Diversity and Disproportionality Report – June 2009

The 1927 Oshkosh, Northwestern describes; “There were no slaves or other negroes in the county, no deaf and dumb, blind or insane persons, and no idiots.”  From the time Morris Firman established his first sawmill (1847), through its dramatic development as the primary source of lumber after the 1871 great fire of Chicago, the establishment of Oshkosh State Normal School to UW-Oshkosh, the rise and fall of Oshkosh B’Gosh, to today, the city of Oshkosh has seen tremendous growth in both its ethnic minority and lower-income populations.   

Oshkosh has traditionally been a “closed city.”  Adjectives like “quaint” and “simple”, “safe” and “traditional” would aptly describe its history.   Oshkosh is, and by extension, Oshkonians are steeped in tradition.  It would be safe to describe Oshkosh as a pretty conservative city.   People in Oshkosh revel in the, “I remember when” stories.  They tell their kids, and their kids tell their kids.  It is the tradition. 

From a historically sleepy, manufacturing-driven, exclusively white, Midwestern city, Oshkosh’s demographics has begun to shift quite dramatically – and moreso over the past 18 years.  The 1990 census placed Oshkosh with a registered population of 55,006 – the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.  Of this population, 347 (.6%) were identified African American (AA), 489 (.8%) Latino, and 1039 (2%) Asian – excluding Hmong and Laotian which accounted for 655 (1.1%) of the total population.   More recent 2000 census data places Oshkosh’s total estimated population at 62,916 – now the eight largest city in Wisconsin.  Of this estimated population 1376 (2.2%) were identified AA – a four-fold increase, 1062 (1.7%) Latino, and 1908 (3.0%) Asian.  Hmong and Laotian now account for 1493 (2.4%) of the total estimated population. 

Concurrent with this development in population and increase in diversity of its population, Oshkosh has witnessed a palpable downward shift in its manufacturing base which, historically, had been its main economic dam.  Below gives an incomplete list of some of the businesses that have been lost to Oshkosh over the past decade.

  1. Oshkosh B’Gosh – closed
  2. Morgan Doors – downsized
  3. Park Plaza stores – closed
  4. Rockwell – downsized
  5. Radford Doors – closed
  6. Copps – closed
  7. Wallace Furniture – closed
  8. Rohners Furniture – closed
  9. Big Lots – closed
  10. Furniture Land – closed
  11. Leach Company – closed
  12. Circuit City – closed
  13. Wisconsin National Life – closed
  14. Wisconsin Automated Machinery – closed
  15. Square D – closed
  16. Kimberly Clark – downsized
  17. SNC Manufacturing – closed

J.E. Espino writes about the changing economic climate.  He stated,

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the fastest-growing occupations are in health care and technology.  Indeed, the case is partially bearing out in Wisconsin, evidenced by the top 25 jobs heading into 2009. The No. 1 occupation is nursing, followed closely behind personal home and care aides and home health aides.  A large number of these in-demand occupations do not command high wages, however. They are low-skills jobs that require short-term on-the-job training, such as food preparation, customer service and retail. Wisconsin has fallen on hard times. Its manufacturing sector has been devastated. Job losses topped more than 32,000 in the past 12 months, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

In a January 18th, 2009 editorial in the Oshkosh Northwestern, Jeff Bollier wrote:

In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Oshkosh-Neenah metropolitan statistical area, the number of health care and education workers in November was up 2.4 percent since the beginning of 2008 while employment in segments like trade, transportation and utilities; manufacturing and professional and business services have all declined 1.3 to 2.1 percent. Manufacturing and rural communities have been hit hard by layoffs. “In our region, we’ve seen the largest number of layoffs in manufacturing,” Welch said. “But a lot of middle managers and professionals whose companies may look to cut costs may lose their jobs, too.  “It spans industries, but in the Fox Valley, the impact is still more directly on manufacturing and some retail, like restaurants.”

Census projections (2006) place the City of Oshkosh as eight-largest amongst Wisconsin cities with a population of 64,084 a 1.2% increase from 2004 census figures.  Oshkosh identifies 7.3% of its population as ethnic minority with 2.2% as African American (AA) or Black.  Only Milwaukee (37.3), Racine (20.3), Beloit (15.4), Kenosha (7.7), and Madison (5.8) show larger AA populations – Racine, Beloit, and Kenosha, smaller than Oshkosh: Milwaukee and Madison much larger.  Of cities with comparable numbers, Oshkosh holds the largest AA population.

Summary:

What we see, therefore, is a highly conservative, highly traditional, very White, simple town with a proud, strong history of manufacturing that has lost a significant number of low-skilled, well-paying jobs over the past 18 years.  Some of these jobs have been replaced by service industry positions.  Some have not.  During this period both the population and ethnic diversity of the population have grown.   

A major question falls naturally from the summary above:  “If there are no available jobs, or no well-paying available jobs, how do we explain (a) the increase in population, and (b) the increase in the diversity of the population.  Secondarily, does this “new” population lend to our middle-class thereby accenting our financial solvency, or does it draw from it adding to our un- or under-employment. 

Let us first look at the educational attainment of our population.

Educational Attainment:

The Encyclopedia of Sociology Summary suggests, “One of the main reasons education is valued so highly is the role it plays in relation to social mobility.”  If we consider education as the major path toward social mobility, a review of Oshkosh’s population vis-à-vis its educational attainment would offer us some insight. It is widely accepted that a more educated population would offer greater buffering of our current economic downfall and greater readiness for subsequent upturns in our economy. 

2000 census figures suggest that Oshkosh’s 25 years and over population stood at 38,496.  Of this population, 71% held no higher than a high school (including equivalency) diploma.  Only 23.1% of Oshkosh’s population held at least a bachelor’s degree.  Six percent held associate (two-year) degrees.  Just over 79% of Oshkosh’s residents were born in-state.  This suggests relatively low mobility of residents. 

A review of data for larger cities, including other cities in the valley, “percent bachelor’s degree or higher” reveal; Milwaukee (18.3), Madison (48.2), Racine (15.6), Appleton (29.7), Fond Du Lac (19.0), Eau Claire (28.9), Green Bay (19.3).  This data suggests that, of the four major valley cities, Oshkosh has the second-highest “percent bachelor’s degree or higher” population at 23.1%. 

Mobility:

State mobility can be a two-edged sword.  From one perspective communities that retain high percentages of their birth population tend to have strong community histories, and traditions.  There is a social understanding of how one is accepted as a member of that community.  Conversely, these communities tend to be highly resistant to change.  Developmental shifts take longer to become accepted.   A population-retention rate of 79% suggests that a very large portion of Oshkonians grew-up, went to school, found jobs, brought up their children, and remained pretty-much within the city for their entire lives.  Some may have left to be educated eventually returning to the city.  I suspect that many current teachers can share stories of having taught the parents of their pupils.  The circle remains unbroken.  Oshkosh can be described as beautifully traditional and slow to shift. 

It is commonly thought that building a university within a community may help assuage the potential for incestual thinking and hiring processes.  This may be so, but only if the university is able to attract and retain relatively high numbers of students and faculty from outside the area – different state and/or country.  Universities tend to be the community’s arms that extend beyond the confines of the city.  They are the ones who chart the course…who lead the way for the community.  If a university simply satisfies the needs of the community, it runs the risk of keeping the community stagnant.  A healthy tug must exist between the academic environment and the community for change to take place.  Without that discomfort, there is limited potential for growth.  

As an example: Let us say that the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has a strong Teacher Education program, however,  the vast majority of the teachers being educated within that program come from the City of Oshkosh.  There are two ways to advance the Teacher Education (TE) program to a level of growth, competitiveness, and readiness for 21st century challenges.  One way would be to ensure that the TE program keeps a variety of visiting professors from similar programs all over the country.  The constant flow of new thoughts, ideas, and research interests tend to create and maintain vibrancy in the program.  Another way would be to institute a mandatory semester-long internship experience in dissimilar cultural environments (other countries or states).  This way, students become immersed in cultures and experiences alien to their own.  This expands learning.

Demographic Changes:

We had spoken earlier about the increases both in population and diversity of the population of Oshkosh over the past decade.  Let us review where this population has come from.  In this section we will also examine why the increase in population, as well as answer the question posed earlier: “Does this new population lend to our middle-class thereby accenting our financial solvency, or does it draw from it adding to our un- or under-employment?”  

Over the past decade, Oshkosh has seen a dramatic shift in its ethnic minority population (see above), the majority of whom are both low education and low skilled.  A number of reasons have been offered for this.  These include: 

  1. Oshkosh has been designated a “safe city” welcoming five (5) Sudanese families from the devastating circumstances in Dafur.
  2. Oshkosh is one of the primary settlement areas for Hmong (Southeast Asian) families (655 to 1493).
  3. The Winnebago Correctional Institute, established approximately 20 years ago, has drawn a large, diverse, heavily AA population to the city (347 to 1374).    
  4. A number of extended relatives from the initial group (see “c” above) have moved into the city to find a place of “safety” for themselves and their children.   The AA population has almost quadrupled over the past decade.
  5. A few families, displaced by Katrina, have found sanctity within the city.
  6. There has been a dramatic Latino immigration into the state.  One would expect that this increase would be reflected in many of the larger cities – Oshkosh being one.  

Lower education and high immigration coupled with a loss of manufacturing jobs have all contributed to Oshkosh’s current situation.   The totality of these shifts have had the effect of swelling the ranks of the lower- and working class, and placing an additional stress on the already over-burdened social, educational, and economic structure of the city. 

Education System:

The Oshkosh educational system is comprised of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO), the Fox Valley Technical College, the Unified Catholic Schools, Oshkosh Christian & Valley Christian and the Oshkosh Area School District (OASD).  There are a few early primary programs that exist.  UWO is the third largest university in the state with a total enrollment of 12,700 students (citation).  OASD educates over 10,500 students in 16 elementary, five middle, two high, and six charter schools. 

The system continues to struggle.  The educational structure of the city has not shifted to prepare (a) for the loss of manufacturing, nor (b) the change in demographics.

  1. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh which itself has demonstrated a poor record of retention and recruitment of ethnic minority (African American) students, continues to be the main training and recruiting ground for teachers within the city.   Current data suggests that 61% of AA students at the UW drop-out or stop-out prior to their fourth year.  An additional 56% of all enrolled AA students hold GPAs below 2.5.  
  2. The school district lacks diversity within its academic staffing pool.   There is currently one principal of color within the district.  There are no teachers of color.  Recruitment efforts (to date) have met with little success. 
  3. Very few of the OASD’s academic and support staff have had didactic and/or practical training in working with a diverse population.
Citation:

The Oshkosh School District has recently been cited for the disproportional representation of ethnic minority students in Special Education.  This means that relative to their percentage in the population, AA children are over-represented in the Special Education programs.  This is particularly true Cognitive Disabilities (CD) and Emotional and Behavioral Disability (EBD).  

A number of reasons have been offered as explanations for the disproportionality.   Before listing some of the explanations, it should be noted that OASD is not singular in this challenge.  Many, if not most, of the school districts across the country share a similar affliction. 

Gloria Latson-Billings writes:

African American students continue to lag significantly behind their white counterparts on all standard measures of achievement. African American children are three times as likely to drop out of school as white children are and twice as likely to be suspended from school.  The high school dropout rate in New York is about 35% and California the rate nears 50 percent. African American students make up only about 17 percent of the public school population but 41 percent of the special-education population. pg. 2

Recent data from our own District demonstrate the challenge.  AA suspension rates at Merrill Middle sit at 47%, Webster 27.8%, North 25.4%, West 19.25%. 

One of the major reasons for our current challenge is the posture from which we perceive the population.  We, the collective “us”, see AA children and families in pejorative terms – as deficient, deprived, deviant, culturally disadvantaged (Billings, 1998).    As we engage from a deficit model, our emphasis is to move these families/children to become “more like us.”  Our biggest challenge, however, is that “We have never learned them.”  We have learned AA as deficient and devoid…not different and unique. 

Disproportionality and diversity continue to be a challenge for us here at OASD.  

As noted earlier, these challenges are not unlike those of any growing city or metropolis.  Ours is a bit unique because of the history behind our growth in diversity, the speed of that growth, and the popular perceptions of that growth.  Those three things taken in combination with our increases in un- and under-employment, anxiety because of current local and regional economies, and a feeling of being unprepared for these dramatic changes, makes for a stressful situation.  You marry this with teachers who have not been trained to work with this new population – and you begin to understand “Oshkosh today.” 

One of the popular and frequently articulated charges against the lack of success of our now seven-year invasion of Iraq, was that we lacked of knowledge of the history and culture of the people of that region.  You recall that we were struggling to find interpreters.  We entered a prolonged engagement without knowing the population.  

Part of our challenge in Oshkosh is that “Our teachers, administrators included, are working without knowing.”   We have entered an engagement without knowing the population.

Teachers/Administrators do not train themselves, so the contention that the blame for not knowing or not being educated about culture and cultural differences, rests singly with them is misguided.  However, the responsibility for not knowing does.  Malleability of learning and willingness to learn, coupled with the sloth of the revolution in teaching makes change difficult.  Consider that many teachers stay in their posts from 20 – 30 years.  Yes, there is a credit expectation for licensure – but there are few (if any) checks on level, content, intensity, or relevance.   I do hope that the recently enacted PI-34 helps us in this area.

As any of our industries attempts to market (products or service) within or without the Unites States, millions of dollars are placed into learning the cultures (China, Latin American, Africa, Middle-East) and test-marketing within the region.  This process of learning and understanding the culture makes “perfect” sense to us when used in the context of an invasion, or sales.  It is unfortunate that this posture is not as globally acknowledged and shared when it comes to education.  There is such resistance to the admission of a need to “learn the culture” if we expect to successfully market the product called “Education” to any population.

Social Circumstance and Race:

The relationship between social circumstance and race is of great import in this discussion.  It is true that the vast majority of AA immigrants to the city fall within the lower socio-economic strata.   The percentage of our AA students that satisfy requirements for “Free and/or Reduced” (F&R) lunch is quite high.  Current estimates place it at 63% of total AA school population.  If we argue that there is a very high correlation between eligibility for F&R and poverty – then, as a percentage of its population, Oshkosh does not have a Black middle-class.  There are so few AAs within what might be termed “the middle-class” that as a percentage of total population (or AA population) it would be insignificant. 

What this means is that “race” in the context of our community, is weaved very tightly in with “poverty.” There are no counterbalancing forces.  Poverty in our community is a legitimate conversation relative to the success of our students, but not to the rejection or discard of race.  They are tightly wound, intimately partnered, but not the same.

As one, well-meaning, social worker shared;

“Poverty, Poverty, Poverty!  That really is a main issue that I see here at XXX.  And how that poverty affects the lack of motivation, disinterest in planning for the future/goal setting, valuing of education……”

Yes, there is poverty – and that is debilitating, but there are equally insidious inter- and intra-perceptions of race that are just as debilitating. 

An additional challenge to social circumstance is that a large portion of our current AA population are immigrants.  Very few were born in Oshkosh, or even the Midwest.  A recent conversation with eight (8) middle school AA children revealed that none was born in Oshkosh.   Two (2) were from the Wausau, one (1) from Milwaukee, one (1) from Chicago, one (1) from Ohio, one (1) from Virginia, one  (1) Indiana, and one (1) from Louisiana.  None attended elementary school here.   Although these children share ethnic similarities, they are culturally very different – not unlike a Texan from a Minnesotan. 

How do these children engage each other while attempting to learn from a model that emphasizes deficits?  

Laying Down New Tracks:

Because of learning, experiences shared, stories told, media reports, et cetera, each of us lays down tracks.  These are mental rail-tracks, not unlike a string of lights on a Christmas tree.  When one light anywhere on the string is lit, they all turn on.  As each of us continues his/her process of learning and development, these tracks become more and more ingrained. 

These tracks are not necessarily one’s own experiences.  Our survival as a species depends on our ability to learn from others successes and misfortunes.  These tracks are also not race specific.  This means that races learn about other races through shared stories, books, television shows, movies, neighbors et cetera.  When there is little engagement or experience to counter those learned stories, they become real.  These prejudices are fed in the multitude of comfortable conversations we have with “others like us.”  They become engrained and subconscious.   

These prejudices are neither overt nor unnecessary.  They are automatic.  They are learned.  Think of when you first learned to drive a car and how trying that was.  Think of your level of active concentration.  Think of your current state of automaticity.  You do not think of it…unless, of course, you drive a vehicle that you are less accustomed to.  Unless, or course, you had that one glass of wine too many!  Your behaviors move out of that “track” of automaticity.  You have to concentrate.  You have to think. 

” The recognition of the ability to impose power or have power imposed upon is more powerful that the actual imposition of that power.”

There are clearly behaviors in our children that prejudice learning.  Our challenge is to recognize these behaviors, help these children learn that they are contraindicated in this environment, help them unlearn them while laying down new tracks.  This is a lot to ask our teachers when a child arrives in the middle of 8th grade with a 4th grade learning.   You cannot ask a teacher to recognize, yet ignore why a child has come to Oshkosh in the first place.   How do you engage in it and use this as part of your data, yet not make decisions based on it?  Do you ask the teacher to ignore it?  IS the teacher being racist?

This is being asked while our entire school district soaks in the anxiety of the flood of this new population…without learning…without experience, in the middle of budget cuts, a sagging economy, coupled with increasing job losses and poverty.   This is tough. 

 Attracting and Retaining Diversity:

Our inability to attract ethnic minority principals and teachers to our district does add to our challenge.  Ethnic minority principals and teachers are, in large part, members of the social middle class.  Regardless of race or ethnic group, people within the social middle class tend more toward comfort than safety.  External relationships, community, leisure time and activities tend to take greater precedent in the lives of the middle class.  Our kids play soccer, or take dance lessons.  

Another part of our challenge is that Oshkosh is not a well-known community.  It is less likely that people would come to places that they don’t know.  

Part of our challenge is that “we have none, so none will come.”  It is difficult in 2009, where options exist, to ask someone to accept the mantle of “pioneer” – without promise or reward.   What are you offering that would make someone pause and give consideration?  Why should I consider moving from my community of comfort, even for a three-year stint, to come to work in your community? 

Remember that the AA who come here do not do so because you have a strong economic base, or you offer vibrant night life.  Oshkosh offers safety relative to Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee…not comfort!

Below offers four of the main reasons we are having trouble attracting ethnic minority teachers.   

  1. Most animals tend to commune.  If there is no community, it is unlikely that any will remain.  The old saying “If there is none – there will be none” explains it very nicely.  Cultural barrenness.  There is no place of leisure or comfort for AAs in Oshkosh.  There are a few make-shift churches, no radio programs, no shops, no barber or beauty salons…no places to safely convene. 
  2. Oshkosh is unknown.  Advertisement of Oshkosh.  A greater percentage of academics must know where Oshkosh is.  Oshkosh must market itself.
  3. Given high demand coupled with low supply…why come here?  African American teachers are a hot commodity.  What is there here by way of emotional support, financial remuneration…that will draw them from their comfort zones?  Promise and Reward.  You must offer a reason to come and a reason to remain – at least for “X” number of years.
  4. There are no AA teachers in the pipeline.  None of the University of Wisconsin Madison, Whitewater, Oshkosh, nor Marian University can identify one AA student in its Teacher Education program.  If the University is able to attract, recruit, and retain more ethnic minorities (AA) there will be a better story, a greater history, and greater retention.

The ease with which I offer interventions 1, 2, 3, and 4 belie the difficulty in the actual performance.  Each has its difficulty.   Each has its challenge.

 

Our larger, and more immediate challenge, therefore, is educating the staff that we do have along with the staff that is coming to us, to work with this population.  I would argue that the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which stands as our major recruiting vein, is severely compromised relative to keeping up with the demands of our culture. 

Interventions:

First we have to recognize that the teaching of AA students by AAs is a fallacy.  It is important to have AA models, and have AA teachers, but the learning of AA students does not depend on our successfully recruiting AA teachers.  The success in our educating AA students is heavily dependent on our educating our staff.  This is our major problem.  We have uneducated staff.  We have uneducated administrators.  We have challenges in our executive body. 

We have not made the necessary moves to (a) acknowledge it as a different culture, (b) learn and teach about the new culture, and (c) shift our hiring process toward a heavy emphasis on those who have been trained in working with the new culture.     

I am not saying that this is easy.   I am saying is that this is primary. 

“What is being done, what successes have been made, and what still need to be done?”

These questions will be addressed next.

What is Being Done & How is it being Done?

In the sections above, I presented on the social and economic history of Oshkosh, the reason behind our being cited by the Department of Public Instruction, our city-wide educational attainment levels, our demographic shift and the reasons behind those, our economic downturn, our social circumstance and race, our lack of a Black middle class, how learning and prejudice is established and retained, and our challenges in attracting, retaining, and recruiting AA staff to Oshkosh. 

This section attempts to link the interventions to the challenges noted above.  As I present an intervention, I will suggest why I see this as important to (a) the development of OASD, and (b) the readying of OASD for 21st century challenges.  Some will be more direct.  Some will be more obtuse.  You will note that rather than addressing many of the challenges directly, the core spirit of these interventions address the promise of OASD. 

How is it being done?

My work is done on three main levels.   

Level 1 – Universal:  At this level of intervention, I look at the organizational structure and history of Oshkosh.  I am looking here at the balance of power in Oshkosh and how things are related to each other.  This is where relationships with the Chamber of Commerce, the University, the Mental Health Alliance, the Poverty Council, and different ethnic communities come in to play.  This is where you partner with other universities.

Level 2 – Selected:  At this level of intervention, I am working with schools, principals, teachers, psychologists, and social workers.  This is where you begin to bring principals together, psychologist together.  This is where you have principals share voice with the Superintendent, the Chief of Police, and the Director of Social Services.

Level 3 – Targeted:  At this level of intervention, I am working directly with students and families.  This is where you sit in on pre-expulsions, or conduct observations of a child at home, in school, or the community.  This is where you give families your card, or visit with them, or go to the grocery, church, or an athletic event. 

These are neither clean nor clear-cut divisions.  They do bleed into each other.  However, this work will not be successful without each of these being performed.  

What is being done?

  1. Poverty Alliance.  The percentage of poverty in Oshkosh has increased.  Other than the current downturn in the economy, two other reasons can be cited.  The first is the loss of manufacturing jobs, many of which have not been replaced.   Oshkosh has seen great losses over the past decade.  (See above)  Some of these positions have been replaced by service industry positions which tend to pay less while demanding more (attire, human relationships, etc.).  The second is the influx of ethnic minority, lower-income families.  Many families have moved into the district and stayed.  This has placed a strain on a community.  The Poverty Alliance is a group which includes the Mayor, our Executive Director of Administrators, the Chief Executive Officer of the United Way of Oshkosh, and other influential people in our community, coming together to address this problem.  This affects our schools because of the intimate dance between poverty and education.   A few simple examples will suffice.  If we were to close one of our schools on the North side (our Title one schools) and place the new school outside the city, how would that affect our afterschool, our parent-teacher relationships, et cetera?  If our buses stop service at 6:30, how do our parents attend functions?  How do our parents get to and from work?  How does poverty affect brain development?  How does poverty affect language acquisition?                 Status:  The group continues to meet, but action is slow.
  2. North-side Alliance (NSA).  It is clear that there are physical, qualitative, and perceived differences between schools on “one side of town” versus those on “the other side of town.”    All our Title 1 schools are on the North-Side of Oshkosh.  Title 1 schools, by definition, have 35% or greater poverty.   Our North-Side schools have to deal with greater student diversity, greater poverty, more mental health challenges, more social service and law enforcement visits.   Many of the children come from working-class families.   A large percentage of the students qualify for Free & Reduced meals.    These schools have unique challenges.  The NSA is a group comprised of participating North-Side principals.  The idea is to bring these principals together to have a shared voice and shared responsibility for their students and their community.   Given the high positive correlation amongst poverty, low education, high incidents of mental health challenges, and deviant behavior, a relationship between NSA and community intervention services (police and social service agencies) is being established.            Status:  We have had a few meetings to date, but the buy-in is not to the level I would like to see.  The principals have not “taken over” and do not see these meetings as a priority.
  3. Mental Health Council.  The relationships between success in education and poverty, and poverty and mental health have been well established.  High incidents of poverty tend to show strong negative correlation with educational success.  Poverty and incidents of psychopathology tend to be positively correlated.  Higher incidents of poverty tend toward higher incidents of psychopathology including AODA and other drug abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and single-family units.  The relationship is not one-to-one, but it is positively correlated.  If we ignore poverty and the related issues of mental health in our community, we do so at our educational peril.  The Mental Health Council is a group that looks at the mental health issues in our community.  My participation in this group is to bring and maintain awareness on the relationship among education, poverty, and mental health.   My second effort is to subtly move the group (our community) away from the popularized notion that mental health challenges have anything to do with DSM-IV axis one, axis two diagnoses.  When “normal” life stresses increase without relief, the behavior of “normals” is impacted negatively.              Status:  Meetings continue. I have recently joined this group.      
  4. Psychology Council (PC).   We have six (6) school psychologists for the entire district.  These young men and women are the “keepers”…of the RTI, of the EBD diagnoses, of the “What do I do with this kid?”, of the “Get this kid out of my class!”  These are the ones who, with huge bags, go from school to school testing, negotiating, charting, shouldering new responsibilities, rules, and laws.  The PC is an attempt to bring these workers together to share on issues of assessment, or professional development.    Status:  To date, we have had one meeting.  I am putting together information on RTI to help prepare them.  
  5. African American Parent Council (AAPC).   The only time we meet the majority of these parents is when one of their kids is in trouble.  These kids share that they are abandoned, picked on, and unfairly targeted in the schools.  Parent with whom I have met share the same concerns.  They also contend that punishment and reward are not evenly meted out.  Parents speak of these concerns but only enter the schools when serious issues arise…and enter in anger.  The opportunity for relationship development, for monitoring what’s going on in the schools, for having voice is lost.  The AAPC brings parents as active and responsible partners in their children’s education.          Status:  To date only one meeting has been held.  The group has not even developed to the “forming” stage.
  6. Pre-Expulsions.  There is nowhere that my training in cultural assessments, diagnosis, observation, family and individual treatment, silent listening, and speaking to the listening of cultures comes into greater focus than in a pre-expulsion meeting.  It has, unfortunately, been the primary source of my introduction to the community.  Yet, fortunately, that introduction has been very positive, and is now my strongest marketing tool.  Part of the success of my efforts is being able to weave in and out of different cultures, different ethnic groups, different social groups, different age groups, and people with different political agendae.  The pre-expulsions have served to “get the word out” that Dr. Al is in town.        Status:  Parents are neither afraid nor distrustful of me.  That gives me the opportunity to say “the hard things” – but not in hard ways.
  7. CARE Team meetings.  There are many steps prior to the point of pre-expulsion.  One is the CARE team meeting.  A few principals recognize this and feel secure enough to invite me in to support them and their CARE team.  Success is heavily dependent on whether I am perceived as a professional with certain credible knowledge, learning and skills or a Black male here to look at the Black kids. Status:  I continue to serve in the capacity of a cultural behavioral specialist.  Most recently I was invited to be the Black person deflecting charges of “racism” leveled at the school.  I declined that invitation. 
  8. Private Consults.  Some principals would seek out my expertise on particular issues involving ethnic minority students and/or parents.             Status:  I have met with principals and deans on certain issues.  Earlier today (Thursday) I conducted an observation at one of our Pre-K sites.  I continue to work in this capacity.
  9. Community Meetings.  Part of the success of this job is people knowing that I am here and getting comfortable with seeing me.  To this end, I would attend sporting events and shop at local groceries.  The more I am seen as part of the community, the less discomfort people will have reaching out to me, and allowing me to support them.                 Status:  I continue to do this although I no longer travel up on weekends. 
  10. Editorials.  This is another way of marketing and increasing my visibility in the community.  Many Whites in our community are unaccustomed to Blacks, hold a certain negative internal profile of Blacks (intelligence, success, being articulate, etcetera), would prefer Blacks did not exist in our community, and would wish to avoid them as much as possible.  My positive presence in the local newspaper challenges many of those assumptions, and forces them to read or turn the page.  Whether they do or not…I am still there.  In this way I am both a connector to the school district (people become curious about who this person is) and a flag for African Americans in the community (African Americans see me as their representative whether or not I represent their views.)                        Status:  I continue to write monthly editorials, slowly moving in to more challenging topics.
  11. Study-In-Broad (SIB).  African Americans are an entirely different cultural group, not unlike South-East Asians, or Chicanos, that we need to be trained in.  You cannot bring someone in to talk in a seminar to learn how to deal with a cultural group.  You need both didactic and practical training.  SIB is an effort to provide that practical training…that immersion experience that is necessary to learn to work effectively with any culture. 

Background:  The Oshkosh Area School District (OASD) boasts 16 elementary, 5 middle, 2 high, and 6 charter schools educating over 10,000 students and carrying a staff in excess of 800 professionals.  As with many other communities in the United States, Oshkosh has seen a shift in its population demographics.  Oshkosh has seen an increase in its ethnically and culturally diverse populations.  Current population projections suggest that both our growth and shift in population demographics will persist.  It is important, therefore, that all aspects of our community be readied for this shift.  We in the OASD are making aggressive moves to ready ourselves for this shift…for the realities of the 21st century.  It is our belief that (a ) each of us must ready ourselves for the inevitability of cultural collision as our communities continue to share space and resources, (b) there is as much inter-diversity (between countries) as there is intra-diversity (between communities), and (c) our student populations can learn so much from each other. 

The SIB program, outlined below, provides one means of partnering, exchanging ideas with and having our staff, students, and families learn from the tremendous academic, social and cultural environments that each of us is privileged to be part of.  It is a way for us all to benefit.  Selfishly, it has the potential to increase the capacity of the Oshkosh Area School District to educate our increasingly diverse population, bring our staff closer to a point of cultural competence and cultural skill acquisition while providing both groups of professionals (students and/or teachers) a unique and powerful opportunity to enhance their skill and professional development while affecting social change. 

Purpose of Program: This is a highly involved program whose purpose is to: 

  • Initiate and promote a Sister-College relationship between Loyola University and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Teacher Education programs. 
  • Enhance the cultural competency and skill set of each of our student groups through exchange, learning and practice.
  • Create greater cooperation between the two academic environments through research and cultural exchange.
  • Offer the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and Loyola University students of the teacher education, counseling-psychology, and social work departments the opportunity to engage in a (SIB) program.
  • Offer a program that is cutting edge, rife with research possibilities and of significant personal, social and organizational value.

 

Objectives:  The objectives of this program include:

 

  • Increasing the cultural competence of the OASD in order to meet the demands of educating students in the changing cultural world of the 21st century,
  • Providing our sister environment SIB scholars an opportunity to work and learn in a traditionally homogeneous community that is experiencing a gradual demographic metamorphosis,
  • Increasing the marketability of students from Loyola University as a result of their participation in a cultural exchange program of this nature. 
  • Increasing the potential for participating students from Loyola University to be highly marketable within the OASD as a result of their participation in the SIB program,
  • Providing the SIB participants with a guided/supervised experience in a community much unlike their own thereby enhancing both communities,
  • Exposing SIB participants to a market area which they might not necessarily consider.  In turn, ultimately developing a sense of cultural connection among diverse populations rather than cultural isolation,
  • Providing OASD teachers, counselors, psychologists, social workers and the University of  Wisconsin-Oshkosh with the opportunity to acquire knowledge regarding cultural competency and social justice from the SIB students who are able to impart such information first hand,
  • Providing OASD teachers and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with an understanding of the impact of cultural diversity such that their teaching strategies may reflect the needs of students of color and ethnic diversity,
  • Establishing an ongoing professional dialogue between the Sister institutions,
  • Creating an ongoing professional dialogue between OASD teachers and Loyola University such that the District educators form partnerships with professionals not otherwise accessible to them,
  • Providing the Oshkosh community with an opportunity to form partnerships with culturally diverse/competent staff and to gain an understanding of the impact of cultural diversity in a community with Oshkosh demographics,
  • Enhancing the marketability of the community of Oshkosh and the OASD to potential culturally diverse/competent employees,
  • Providing families of color and cultural diversity with a unique connection in Oshkosh to assist them in obtaining resources necessary to make the education of their children successful,
  • Creating stronger ties between the OASD and families of color and cultural diversity by providing the families with staff members with whom they may immediately identify,
  • Enhancing the lives of district families of color and cultural diversity by connecting them with community resources and with opportunities they might not otherwise access on their own.

Program Organization

Both institutions must be satisfied that (a) there is a need, (b) that need is mutual, and (c) that mutual will be satisfied through this engagement in this program.   Each institution will pick eight (8) students who believe that their learning and marketability will be enhanced through a didactic and practical experience as described above.  For example: Eight students from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh will provide the Loyola University with eight (8) junior and/or senior students from the Teacher Education program.  Loyola University will, in turn, provide a similar number of its students at a similar level to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. 

(b) Students will remain and attend classes for one semester satisfying all academic expectations of the receiving university – including a school-based, supervised, practicum experience.

Other particulars of the program including housing, insurance, and tuition are to be determined.

  1. Urban Education – Summer Institute.  The Urban Institute, based in Milwaukee, promises to offer Teacher Education students supervised, practical experience working in with an urban population.  This is similar to the SIB project listed above, but does not have the didactic component attached.  It is supposed that the interns have had that training in their classes.        Status:  I have a meeting with the Director of the program set for Monday February 2nd at 2:00pm.  I want to sell the idea of initiating a similar program during the summer.  This way some of our staff could be involved in this essential learning experience.     
  2. Scholars-In-Residence (SIR).  Very few of our current staff has the necessary learning and experience to work with our shifting demographics.  The vast majority of our teaching staff comes from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO).  UWO has no ethnic minority students in its Teacher Education program.  (They had one who recently graduated).  Part of our plan here is to introduce ethnic minority teacher education interns into our fold.  There is tremendous potential for learning and recruitment with this proposal.                  Status:  We have had numerous meetings with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  They are very much intrigued by the proposal, but have no ethnic minority students in their program.  This parallels my experience with UW-Whitewater, and Marian College.  Although the program and the intent of the program remain – make OASD a target district to come and work in – the program has to be revised.  We simply do not have the material to work with.  Local universities have no Teacher Education students of color!  However, I do have one Counseling Psychology Graduate who has expressed interest in the program.    I have shifted to another proposal.  (see below).
  3. Expanding our Recruiting Base.  We cannot continue to pick our teachers from the same single apple tree.  We need to expand our base, thereby challenging the UWO to do a better job in teacher preparation.  The face of Oshkosh is changing.  Their Teacher Education program must change to match this shift.  Building on the argument that “we do not need a Black teacher to successfully engage with Black students”, and seeing that we have no current access to a well of Black teachers, I have shifted focus toward the investigation of (a) Teacher Education programs that mandate a one-semester out-of-country immersion experience or (b) have actively woven ethnic minority issues into their teaching programs.  I have found that Marian University encourages “a” and engages in “b”.        Status:  We have a meeting set-up with a representative of Marian University to discuss relationship development.    
  4. Videoconferencing Units.  Our African American students in Oshkosh do not have teachers, doctors, dentists, truck drivers, or lawyers as models.  They live in a very closed city with little other than television shows as their access to what life is like, or could be like.  The majority have family members who either are or have been incarcerated.  In fact, many of our AA students are here accompanying or following family members who have been in trouble.  Three of the strongest correlates of academic success are the ability to defer gratification, responsibility for others or the larger whole, and holding a constant goal to work toward.  The goal, however, must be seen as attainable; one that that others (like self) have achieved.  Part of the reason that basketball, football, music are such huge draws for our kids is that these are the avenues of access they have been offered.  This is not unlike soccer players in Brazil, or musicians in Southern England.  The videoconferencing units offer our students access to the outside world.  It offers them real-life models who are successful and just above their age range.  This makes the journey seem much more attainable for them.  It offers them a visit with Black professors, and successful Black students in Black colleges.  The real impact of this unit for students who buy into it, is the internal control gained from it.  School is an extremely race-driven experience for the vast majority of our Black students.  There is no honor, joy, and little life relevance for them.  It is simply where their parents said they have to go, and where the law dictates they must be.  These units do not make school any more relevant, but make the journey a process to get to something achievable.                               Status:  I have been able to get a representative of Morehouse University to come here.  Approximately 19 parents and students attended.  I have had a very successful videoconference between one of our students and a Dance professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I have begun a relationship between OASD and Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, and Georgia State.  We have done one, very successful, videoconference and are actively working on developing that highway between us and them.               
  5. African American Student Council (AASC).  Part of the preparation for academic success is learning to give of oneself.  When children who have little and have been given little give back, there is tremendous potential for internal growth and maturity.  Additionally, as students apply for higher education opportunities, they need to demonstrate hours of doing volunteer work.  However, very few of our AA children have available time to volunteer, nor have they been taught the concept.  Many of these children have siblings to see after so that their parents can go to work.  Many others run their households.   I was recently introduced to a young man who took his family (mother and siblings) to the movies as a treat.  Many of us witnessed a child’s reluctance to ask her mother for money to take the bus home.  The AASC attempts to bring AA students together in positive support of each other, participating in volunteer activities while gaining necessary shared hours.                     Status:  This group is yet to be developed.  I need to have a much stronger relationship with students and parents for this to be successful.  My contract does not allow for that type of relationship development.  Someone on the inside would have to do that.  I was very successful with this in Madison (Fantastic Five), but I was on staff at the high school.         
  6. ManuTech Academy (MTA).  We have a very high percentage of potential first-generation students in Oshkosh.  Neither mom nor dad has been to college.  Recall that only 23% of our population has a bachelor’s degree or above.  As noted above, many of our students in both middle and high school, are the adults in the family.  These students do not lack intellect. They have gaps in learning.  They have been moved from apartment to apartment, state to state.  They have tremendous gaps in learning.  For many, what you teach is of no relevance.  You teach for grades rather than utility of the information.  For many others, because of their gaps, what you teach sounds like the great Charlie Brown character, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah…”.  I was invited to observe a few classes in Madison yesterday.   I paused at the door of a math class.  There was no enthusiasm…no engagement…no participation.  There was one, clearly lose Black student, and one White child with his hood pulled over his head clearly sleeping.  The ManuTech program proposes to identify learning styles, talents, and readiness, and teach core subjects in context.  Six kids who have skills, desire, aptitude toward technology (computers, mechanics, repairs, etc.) would participate in a six-month program at the Fox Valley Tech.  They would participate in their core classes at their home school in the morning and spent the entire after lunch periods at the Tech. using the math, English, and reading skills in the context of relevant learning.  I know we have the ALPS program, but I have not seen one ethnic minority student in there.  Rather than the ALPS program, those students are sent to East.  The ALPS is not a program for them.  They need their own.             Status:  I have had meetings with the Director of FVT, but nothing more has been done since our initial meeting.  I have not seen the will to make this move, and this will demand a lot of energy.  
  7. College Visits.  We work on students who are “giving trouble” everyday, all the time often to the detriment of those who are working hard and staying out of trouble.  This, as well as the videoconferencing initiative, is an effort to recognize students, have them know we recognize them, and help them begin the process of thinking ahead.                  Status:  I have made contact with representatives from UW-Whitewater and UW-Milwaukee.  Calls made to UW-Plateville have not been returned.  Again, we have no one in place to take this over.   I will not be travelling with these children.
  8. University Partnerships.  I continue to search out universities with credible Teacher Education programs and a large, diverse, Teacher Education student population.                    Status:  We have had no success here.  I suspect that we have not yet established ourselves as a big enough fish to be partnered with.  We need to begin to aggressively market ourselves. 
  9. Seminars & Conferences (attending).  I have attended a number of seminars and conferences and made wonderful connections for the district.                  Status:  I am beginning to feel that a number of these meeting are more about trying to sell me something and take our hard-earned money using the language of “caring for students.”  Additionally, when I see five of my administrators attend a two-day conference and recognize that I have two-thousand staff that need that learning, I wonder how change will be effected. 
  10. Seminars & Conferences (presenting).
  11. Advanced Placement (AP).  Students who excel in math can be given advanced placement.  The same holds for science.  What happens to students who excel in athletics or art, music, or dance?  These students should be afforded the opportunity for advancement in their areas of specialization.                           Status:  I have met with the Chair of the Department of Kinesiology.  He has expressed interest. A subsequent meeting with the program director was met with similar interest.  We now have to discuss and design the program on our side.
  12. Pre-K experiences.  Early language acquisition is one of the strongest indicators of academic success.  Early language acquisition depends heavily on brain development (proper diet, et cetera) and environment (early modeling).  I do not know how well we do, but we have a strong program and a committed advocate.  Status:  I tend not to touch this.  We seem to have enough cooks in that kitchen.                Update:  I was just (yesterday) invited for consult.  This affords that staff an opportunity to better know what I do and am able to do.  It opens the potential for a wonderful consulting relationship. 
  13. Profiling Our Own Gifts.  Much of this emphasis on Black kids and the number of suspensions and shoveling them into EBD gets people on edge.  People get very defensive and close down.  It is difficult to find the gem if the clam stays shut.  Additionally, we tend to “go out there” which sometimes leaves our teachers feeling that they’re not doing a good job.  What I’m doing here is searching out some of our more dynamic teachers…those who are doing a good job with all our kids despite race, ethnicity, or gender and profiling them.   I am having them tell their story of their frustrations and their successes.  This is going to be a documentary called “A Day in the Life of…”   These teachers will learn through their reflections, others will learn from them, and they will become our central core for development.                  Status:  I currently have three teachers identified for the program; however, only two are actively participating.  A group of five is needed. 
  14. Locating Others – Getting Free Advice.  We keep paying Dr. Daggett to tell us stuff.  We pay this person, and go to that training.  I think we could help each other for little to nothing.  I think we could find (maybe through hone of those very conferences) connections and create a sister-school.  I think we could find schools that are doing it well and we could send teachers out there for a few days, and they could send teachers out here for a few days, or we could create a videoconferencing relationship.  That is what I am working on.     Status:  Nobody’s returning my calls yet.  I think (a) it’s because we are not known just yet, and (b) people love to talk about collaboration but really it is about their recognition.  It’s more about “What’s in this relationship for me?”  As we become better known, I will get more return calls.  I bet you Dr. Daggett does not have a problem with that!
  15.  Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD)/Cognitive Disability Reviews (CD).    Given the fact that we have been cited for disproportional representation of AA students in EBD and CD programs, a review of the process of referral, testing, rejections, and inclusion must be considered.  I am currently embarking on a full review of all points of the process from referral through findings.  It is hoped that this review will help reveal if and where our challenges might be.      Status:   A review of the pertinent laws (Chapter 115) and the evaluation guidelines (PI 11.36 (7) (5) have been completed, as well as an examination of our current data relative to our AA student-population and CD/EBD designation.  Observations of the full process from referral through findings at each academic level (primary, middle, high) are yet to be completed.  Regulations are living, breathing entities.  A determination that we do not match does not automatically mean or not mean that we are doing something wrong, inappropriate, or inconsistent.  If process is adhered to, consistent with cultural norms, and we still find ourselves over-represented, other factors will need to be examined.
  16. First Generation (FG).  Twenty-three percent of the Oshkosh population has achieved a bachelor’s degree (BA, BS) or above.  The City of Oshkosh retains 79% of its population.  A combination of the two data points above suggests that a large portion of our current school population have the potential to be the first in their families to attend an institute of higher education.  Approximately 40% of OASD students qualify for free and/or reduced lunches.  We have a situation where families, because of their own histories, are unable to provide academic or financial support to their children’s efforts in school.  If we accept as fact that social mobility is intimately related to academic success, and we have a number of students in our district who have shown academic potential but have neither the food, the necessary academic space and support, the necessary study space and skills, or the mentoring and guidance, then a program that targets these first-generation students supporting them through high school into college is warranted.  This is the concept behind FG.  FG is designed to take some of our most academically qualified first-generation students and support them nutritionally, socially, and academically through high school into college.  Twelve students will be invited to be the first cohort; 4 African Americans, 4 South-East Asians, 4 White.  A more through explication of this program will be found in a different document.      
Recommendations:

Given what you have available, I will tell you exactly what I suggest you do.

  1. GET YOUR TEACHERS TRAINED IN CULTURE.  You will not get Black teachers here anytime in the near future.  Put your energies and your finances into training your teachers.  I would suggest that you “slow down” in sending a few administrators to this two-day seminar, or to that two-day conference.  Get your teachers trained in culture.   African Americans are a different culture.  Latinos are a different culture.   Israelis and Iranians are a different culture.  Get your teachers trained.  Current data suggests that “the largest effects were for programs offering 30-100 hours spread out over 6-12 months.”  Some type of immersion experience is necessary.

(b)  Identify your aspiring teachers and get them trained first.  Younger teachers tend to be more malleable.  Work to prepare your next generation of teachers.

(c)  Aggressively demand to see the classes and class descriptions from Oshkosh, Whitewater, Marian, and any university that might be sending teachers to you.  Demand that culture be woven into the training of those teachers.  Suggest strongly that those are the teachers you will be considering.  Others need not apply! 

  1. MARKET OSHKOSH.  Oshkosh is not known.  “Where is that,” “Say it again,” and “Could you spell that for me?” are common responses I would get.   It does not matter how great a product you have if no one knows about it.  You need to market.  You need to get out there and research, publish, present at huge education conventions.  OASD needs to be marketed.   
  2. HIRE A COUNSELOR.  A big part of the challenge you are having is the uniqueness of the history of your AA community.  You need to hire a person in a counselor position with responsibility to help AA students navigate the social and academic environment of the high school.   Elementary and middle schools are very important.  High school is imperative.  My students have no sense of deferred gratification, internal locus of control, or projected futures – nor do they have alternative models to offer “a different way of being.”  What classes must I take?  What is ACT?  What is FAFSA?  What is a Historically Black College?  What options do I have?  What college do I attend?  I would like to become a mechanic, how do I go about doing that?  Can we do college visits?  Have this person focus on all your ethnic minority students (AA, Asian, Hmong, Latino, African, etc). This person, however, must be a trained counselor…not a para-professional.  The impetus for disrespect in your district is too high to hire anything less.  Additionally, if that person is Black, there is a natural “I can’t deal with this kid.  Send him to the Black guy” that occurs.  There is no way to avoid it, but making sure that the person is not a para-professional will ameliorate it somewhat.  Merrill 47% African American suspension rate, Webster 27.8%, North 25.4%, West 19.25% – this is what currently defines your school district.  
  3. GET A PART-TIME CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGIST.   There is piece of this puzzle that is academic.  There is a piece that is social circumstance.  There is a piece that is evident when two un-equal cultures clash.  You need to have access to a Cultural Psychologist.  This must not be a full-time staff person…maybe a 5-hour per week contract.  Having a full-time person is wasting time and money unless this person holds a different role within the district.  This is a person whom your school psychologists, your principals, your social workers, your Director of Special Ed., and your Coordinator of pre-K programs has access to.  The person must be licensed.  Any old psychologist will not do.  This person must be trained in both psychopathology, and cultural-psychopathology.  The licensure is important because you may need this person as an expert witness.  You have great problems identifying when something is race, cultural, psycho-pathological, or some terrible mixture of all three.  That is, in part, because they are not easily torn apart.  They tend to be heavily wound together.  This is also because “race” is a very sensitive topic.  Again, note that I am emphasizing “training” of the psychologist, not his/her color.
  4.  CREATE A DIVERSITY COUNCIL.   One of the most important things is to ensure that this position is not viewed as a “watchdog.”  As Williams & Golden (2007) write, “Unfortunately these misconceptions exist because of the historical compliance and punitive orientation of these officers.”  They argue that “faculty administrators and staff should understand that the new officer is being hired to improve institutional effectiveness.”  This would be most effective with (a) the Superintendent’s fullest endorsement of the initiative, and (b) the development of a Diversity Council made up of members of the executive team, administrators, teachers, and members of the community.  The position demands the ability to work collaboratively across a variety of constituencies.  You should move to engage as many of these constituencies as possible to partner in this effort – moving from singular to collective responsibility.

 

 

Read Full Post »