By Maya Pottiger | Word in Black

(WIB) – David C. Banks doesn’t shy away from a challenge. The Eagle Academy Foundation CEO and founder spoke in a Word In Black virtual event about his new position as the NYC Schools Chancellor, highlighting his goals for the school system and education across the country.

Though it’s not a position he ever planned on being in, it’s certainly something he’s thought about before.

“Throughout my career, I’ve encouraged young people to imagine the greatest of heights for their own lives,” Banks said. “If you can’t imagine it, then you certainly have no business even going after it. You have to get it in your mind’s eye first.”

Here are Banks’ top priorities for NYC schools:

Recruit Teachers of Color

“All the research tells us how much better off young people of color are when they see teachers who look like them, who stand before them,” Banks said.

He cited the importance of identity development and how it contributes to the overall development of young people, saying it’s “problematic” if you never see anybody who looks like or has similar experiences and background to you.

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn at all; you can,” Banks said. “But it’s made so much better when you’ve got people that we can relate to.”

Banks wants to create ways for people to want to become teachers, like promoting the work and mission so people are drawn to the jobs, as well as incentivizing the role. He talked about traveling around the country and going to schools and universities — particularly HBCUs — to state their case.

“We need to do a much better job of lifting them up, celebrating them, honoring them for the work that they do on behalf of our children,” Banks said.

He specifically highlighted the “critical importance” of seeing more male teachers, citing men of color are only represented by 2% of the teaching population across the country.

“We’ve got a real mission here. We’re not just going through the routine of going to school every day,” Banks said. “We’re saving these young men, and in doing so, we’re saving ourselves.”

Retain Diverse Teaching Corps

Especially during the pandemic, teachers are leaving the profession at high rates, making it extra important to retain teachers of colors.

Banks says it’s about who you connect those teachers with, creating networks of “mentor teachers” who can help show newcomers the ropes. 

“You’ve got to have what I call credible messengers, people who have similar lived experiences to them who can have informal conversations and get-togethers,” Banks said. “We get a chance, behind the scenes, to say, ‘boy, this stuff is hard,’ and to learn from those who went through it already, who will show you the way.”

He also wants teachers to feel supported and successful, which comes through showing their value and giving them professional development opportunities. But Banks has less traditional ways of professional development that have proven to be useful: music, food, and “real talk.”

“A couple of times a week, after the school day is done, all these brothers get together in a room, and they come in a circle,” Banks said. “It’s like being in a barbershop, and, and they have real talk.”

Through these candid conversations, they learn valuable tips for getting through to students, like sitting with them at lunch, meeting their families, and creating cultural connections.

Eliminate ‘Ultimate Equity Issue’

The “ultimate equity issue,” according to Banks, is that 65% of Black and Brown students never achieve reading proficiency. Banks wants to change the way teachers are teaching reading, going back to the phonetic approach.

“The reality is that schools have gotten away from the core way the kids need to learn to read,” Banks said.

His goal is that every child must learn to read by third grade, “point blank, full stop.” 

“My intention is to lean in so that, no matter what else happens, our kids are going to know how to read,” Banks said. “I consider that the ultimate equity issue. That’s something we’re going to be totally committed to.”

Empower Students

Banks is tired of schools being kept in silos. He wants K-12 students to be engaged in things that are relevant to their lives and develop them to be engaged citizens.

“My goal is to help young people to be ready to take their rightful place in society,” Banks said, “and help to provide the answers that we need.”

With a renewed energy and focus on the schools, Banks wants to make investments in early childhood education, fix special education and the enrollment process, and reform how students are experiencing the school day. He wants to expose students to corporations, various careers, and the power of possibility.

“I will tell you, bright starts and bold futures, that’s going to be the major core changes that you’re going to see,” Banks said.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.