African American Leaders Seek Change On SCOE School Board

SCOE Candidates Penny Schwinn (L) & Christina Shipman (R)

SACRAMENTO – Local African American education leaders are concerned at what some are calling “an attack on African American student achievement” on the Sacramento County Office of Education School Board.

With four seats up for grabs during the June 5 primary election, Black student advocates are pulling together to seek new leadership on the SCOE School Board. Some of the trustees, leaders say, have failed to stand up for African American students at key times.

For instance, when Fortune School of Education came before the board last year to launch an effort to open a series of charter schools aimed at closing the persistent African American student achievement gap, trustee Harold Fong said organizers were seeking to “intentionally produce segregated schools.”

“We cannot step backwards and say because there’s one group with a bigger problem than another group that we should separate this group into their own school,” Fong said.

Christina Shipman, then a concerned observer in attendance at that February 2011 SCOE board meeting, was taken aback by Fong’s comments. After all, she says, “Voting against (the Fortune School proposal) translates to voting against the African American community.”

Now a year later, Ms. Shipman is running against Fong as a candidate for his Area 7 seat. And the early childhood educator says she is committed to serving the children of Sacramento.

“We have to do what we can to make sure they (African American students) take their place in the global market. I don’t think our children are prepared,” she said. “We owe something better for our children,” she added.

John Taylor, president of Concerned African American Parents (CAAP), an advocacy group actively working in area schools to help Black students, said “offensive shenanigans of unchallenged public officials like Harold Fong” need to be stopped immediately.

“We need to mobilize the community of Sacramento to demand that ‘all’ children receive a quality education,” Taylor said.

Taylor is one of the many leaders seeking support for a number of candidates running for some of the SCOE Board seats.

Among those are incumbent Dr. Eleanor Brown who is seeking re-election for her Area 4 seat. Dr. Brown voted in favor of the Fortune School charter proposal.

Board president Brian Cooley, the sole SCOE African American trustee, is not seeking re-election of his Area 5 seat. Cooley was a strong proponent of the Fortune School effort. He is putting his support behind teacher and principal Penny Schwinn.

Cooley said this election is critical for the future of the Fortune School growth. If two candidates opposed to the charter program were to win, they could tip the board majority — thus putting the planned schools, and the students they serve, in jeopardy.

The first charter school, Fortune School, was opened in August 2011 on 65th Street, near the Florin Road Towne Center. The second, William Lee College Prep, will open August 5 on Stockton Boulevard near Broadway.

Rev. Tecoy Porter, pastor of Genesis Missionary Baptist Church in the Meadowview area, believes in what the Fortune School of Education is doing so much that he wants his church to be a site of a future location.

“We really need it in our area. Meadowview is the highest crime area in the district with the lowest educational competency in our area. Those things go together,” said Rev. Porter, whose daughter attends Fortune School, where he says she’s thriving.

He added that African Americans must be able to see a problem within their own community, as the Fortune School has identified an issue with African American student academic failure rates in Sacramento, and come up with a solution.

Candidate Shipman says many African Americans sacrificed and were hurt, in the fight for equal rights and equal education so that the next generation could live a better life.

“I truly believe I stand on those shoulders. If we don’t do it, who will?” she added.

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By Genoa Barrow

OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer