By Alfredo Santana
LYNWOOD — The Lynwood Unified School District has announced the formation of an African American Advisory Council after a series of meetings with Black school administrators from California and petitions from student advocates to improve parents’ outreach and provide pupils with resources to better succeed at school.
Called the AAPAC, the district’s Board of Education approved the council by a 5-0 vote during a public meeting Aug. 19, and committed to share “its mission to raise awareness, from parents to educators up to the regional level,” through education on cultural differences and issues related to Black students.
The council is composed of a district employee and advisor, a parent and a student.
A statement from the school board said parents and educators eyed the council’s formation following the annual gathering of the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators in March 2020, and studied how the community would benefit from such a council.
Patricia Brent-Sanco, the district’s director of Equity, Access and Instructional Services, praised the council’s potential impact on African-American students and families.
“We believe in the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” Brent-Sanco said. “The council really gives us the opportunity to tighten the village, educate and inform parents of district resources, policies and programs, and encourage parents to become advocates for their children in a positive way.”
In 2020, Latinos had the largest ethnic representation among students with 94%, African Americans accounted for 4.5%, and the remaining 1.5% of the student population is composed of white, Pacific Islander, Filipino and native American students.
Last year, student demographics changed ever so slightly. Latinos were 94.1% of the total enrolled, followed by 4.7% of African Americans, and 1.2% of a mix of white, Asian Americans and other unnamed groups.
A report posted to the school district website indicates that the district had 623 African American students enrolled, compared to 12,450 of Latino background in the 2019-20 academic year.
The same document reported the district had 13,245 students enrolled in 20 schools during the same period, and employed 2,244 people.
However, updated figures from Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite showed current district enrollment at more than 15,000 students, while the 2021-22 school year moves forward with restored in-person classes and revamped COVID-19 protocols such as masks, hand disinfectants and desks with pexiglass.
Parent-U-Turn founder and student advocate Mary Johnson said that a council with volunteers existed in 2008, but quit due to a series of issues district officials disagreed with, like its approach to raise $10,000 in scholarships for 80 Black students at Lynwood High and for seeking to hold district administrators and teachers accountable.
“The new AAPAC will be led by a district employee,” Johnson said in a written message. “The district is now looking for a top down model. [The council] was able every year for its last six years to award scholarships to 95 students from kinder[garten] to 12[th] grade.”
She added that a complaint supported by the 80 African American students was filed in protest against the school, and the district responded by hiring UCLA professor Tyrone Howard to teach cultural awareness workshops for all employees.
Also, the principal at Lynwood High was assigned to attend cultural awareness training, and the cultural sensitivity classes had a segment on hip-hop expressions, she said.
“The [previous] LUSD AAPAC was pushed out like our Blacks are pushed out,” Johnson said. “We asked too many questions and did our survey of Black conditions, equity that the district didn’t like.”
However, school district officials denied the existence of racial problems, and said the AAPAC “reaffirms Lynwood Unified’s commitment to collaboratively support our African-American students and families.”
When the district switched to distance learning amid the pandemic, the initial council “engaged with parents, students and educators by conducting virtual meetings, such as parent-family nights and a virtual African-American award ceremony,” the statement said.
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the council helped to conduct drive-through events like Rites of Passage, with assistance from the National College Resources Foundation that supported the awarding of $17,000 in scholarships to students.
“Over the years, the Equity Department has provided various targeted academic, encouragement and socio-emotional supports to African American students and their families in LUSD, in an effort to close the achievement gap and level the academic playing field,” said Equity Coordinator Shirley Davis. “As a result, LUSD has achieved higher graduation rates among African-American students, and more college and university acceptances and scholarships, providing hope, increased self-esteem and improved academic performance for students.”
Despite the challenges hurled at the district by COVID-19 in the 2019-20 school year, the district had a successful graduation rate of 90.8%, compared to 86.1% in the county and 85.9% statewide.
Also, the district indicated that 86% of qualifying Lynwood High students and 84% of Firebaugh High School students submitted enrollment applications to four-year universities in the same period.
Last year showed that 96.6% of Black students within a five-year cohort graduated, and 91.7% of Latinos earned a diploma, both achieving higher rates than the 88.3% reported for the county and 90% in California.
The school district also reported revenues of $184 million and expenses for $194.3 million for 2019-20. Lynwood Unified said that 93.53% of its student population are from economically disadvantaged families, are English learners or are raised by foster parents.
Before the collapse of ceiling soffits at the Lynwood High School’s G-building forced the campus closure and eventual removal of the shoddy structure, U.S. News & World Report named the school among the nation’s best in 2020.
Also, the district reported it had 6,794 students enrolled in elementary education, 2,306 in middle school level, and 3,970 in high school the previous school year. There were 175 pupils signed up in independent and other studies.
Lynwood Unified provides education at 12 elementary, three middle and four high schools, plus one adult school for a total of 20 campuses.
“[The AAPAC] is an exceptional resource and opportunity for our Lynwood Unified families,” Crosthwaite said. “At Lynwood Unified, we are committed to equity and we are proud to help our students achieve their full potential.”
This year, the advisory council will conduct its first event at the end of October, and its officers will be voted in sometime in November.