News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

August 4, 2013

NAACP education summit aims to help students

State, Wabash Valley leaders in attendance

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana’s public education leader told those attending an NAACP education summit Saturday that she wants education in the news and she doesn’t shy away from tough questions.

“The more education is in the news, the better,” said Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction, who attended the NAACP statewide education summit in Terre Haute. “It needs to be the hot topic, because it will give Indiana what it needs for economic stability. I want it there. I want it in the news all the time, with what we need to be doing and where we need to be headed.”

Education has been in the news lately, with controversy over ISTEP testing, the A-F grading system and allegations former superintendent Tony Bennett manipulated grades to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor.

While Ritz didn’t delve into those controversies, she did discuss her vision for education, her focus on greater state outreach to assist schools and her hopes for new assessment systems that are based on student growth.

Her vision for education in Indiana, she said, is, “Imagining the possibilities and making them happen.”

Ritz also told those attending she was “a proud member of the NAACP.”

About 80 people registered for the summit, said Valerie Hart-Craig, president of The Greater Terre Haute Branch of the NAACP, which hosted the event. The day included breakout sessions, including one focusing on the Vigo County School Corp.’s approach to improving graduation rates and diversity in schools. Scheduled presenters included Vigo County Superintendent Dan Tanoos, Carolyn Roberts and Scotia Brown.

Hart-Craig told those attending, “We’re a little bit proud of what we see in our community with regard to education.” She hoped by day’s end, “We will give people from around the state something they can take back to their respective communities.”

The summit was conducted at ISU’s Scott College of Business.

During a breakout titled ‘Rights, Respect and Responsibility’ younger people gave their perspectives on problems encountered by African Americans while in school that might keep them from succeeding.

They also offered their ideas on ways to help those students: more support, more people willing to listen and more peer involvement.

“We need students helping students,” Hart-Craig said. Many don’t trust adults and may have little interaction with them.

At various points during the conference, speakers also addressed the growing problem of violence within the African American community, particularly in larger urban settings.

Among those addressing the topic was Mel Burks, who said he had a young relative shot and killed over a minor issue.

Instead of communicating, people are pulling out guns and killing each other, he said. It must stop. People must respect life, their own and that of others.  

“If we don’t do it, if you don’t do it, we have no hope,” Burks said.

Near the summit’s end, Barbara Bolling, NAACP state conference president, also made reference to black children being killed on a daily basis. “We have to say enough is enough,” she said. Congress needs to pass comprehensive gun control legislation, she added.

During an education roundtable, State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, raised concerns about funding cuts for public schools — and additionally, how funding that should be going to public schools instead is going for charter schools and private-school vouchers.

Public schools must educate all students who walk through their doors, and less funding makes that task more challenging, he said.

During the roundtable, a question was asked related to the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and heightened awareness of issues it has raised.

Kersey noted that Indiana does not have a hate crime law. Also, “We do have a stand your ground law in Indiana similar to the one in Florida,” he said. A legislator has proposed looking at that law, he said.

Among those attending the conference was Selena Ellington of Fort Wayne, who said her own daughter had great difficulties in the educational system. The NAACP fought to help her daughter succeed and eventually graduate from high school, she said.

The conference made her aware “there really are a lot of people out here trying to make the educational system a better system,” but it takes the involvement of many, she said.  

Struggling students need to be listened to, not judged, Ellington said. “Everyone has a story in life to tell, and it’s up to us to listen.”

Also attending was Michael Hubbard, 21, an ISU student from Chicago. He is involved with the group called Black Optimistic Men and Brothers.

He said he gained greater awareness about how he can help some of his peers make better decisions in life and better choices. “Peers reaching out to peers — I feel that is the best way,” he said.

Deonte Nance, a recent ISU graduate, also attended the summit. He eventually plans to go to law school.

He said he grew up in a rough community in Chicago and his dad was a gang member who died when Nance was young. “I could have taken that route, but I had people come into my life and tell me, no, this is what you need to do,” he said, and they pointed to further education.

Those influencing him in a positive way included relatives, teachers and principals. He’s also had mentors while in college.

Other African Americans who face many negative influences also need mentors and role models to point them in a positive direction, Nance said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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