Working to keep black, Latino males in school

Posted: September 02, 2010

School Reform Commissioner Johnny Irizarry said that keeping black and Latino youths from dropping out of school is the most important work he can do as a board member.

Here's why, he said: 51 percent of Latino boys and 43 percent of their African-American counterparts fail to finish high school over a six-year period.

That's compared to a dropout rate of 37 percent districtwide.

"We want to emphasize that what we're aiming for is a four-year graduation rate. We don't want a lower standard," he said.

"I think that for a long time

we've been dragging [our feet] on the crisis of dropout rates of African-American and Latino males."

Irizarry and SRC Chairman Robert Archie, who collaborated on the report presented by The African-American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce, were to present recommendations to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Mayor Nutter today at district headquarters.

Irizarry, during a news briefing earlier this week, warned that the 32-page document, which references previous research on the topic of dropout rates among urban youth, should not be considered another exercise of the mind, but a template for action.

Though many of the recommendations are already in line with Ackerman's school reform plan, Imagine 2014, he said the district must implement such reforms more efficiently.

Additional suggestions include creating all-male classrooms in neighborhood schools, or dividing boys into subgroups to give certain ones more cultural instruction, he said.

Integrating effective multicultural lessons and urban culture into the curriculum is also key, he added.

District officials can do this work with the people already employed by the district by training teachers and other school staff how to relate to their students not only academically, but culturally, he said.

"We can help them [educators] by providing skills and strategies and lessons on how to be empathetic versus having pity on kids," he said.

The input of students was crucial, he said. "We engaged with them in conversation on how to move forward," he said.

Providing social and emotional support, as well as re-examining the discipline process was important, he said.

To monitor progress, Irizarry said the taskforce will createan oversight committee.

Nutter set out to cut the city's dropout rate in half by 2015, Irizarry said.

The devastating dropout rate impacts everybody, said taskforce Chairman Bill McKinney, Director the Howard Samuels Center at the City University of New York.

"We all need to do our part. This is the beginning of a continuing process. The whole city is impacted by the situation."

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