Educators and education experts discussed parental engagement, equity in education and teacher diversity, during a special breakfast session for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Public Awareness Campaign in Washington, D.C.
The session took place during the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) Black Press Week, an annual celebration of the relevance and lasting legacy of Black publishers.
Panelists included Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes; DNA Educational Solutions and Support CEO Dr. Robert L. Kirton Jr.; NAACP Washington Bureau Chief Hilary O. Shelton; Prince George’s County School Board Member Curtis Valentine; and Dr. Lannette Woodruff, an ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) taskforce member for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the project manager for the NNPA’s ESSA Public Awareness Campaign, served as moderator for the session titled, “Striving for African American Excellence in Public Education: The Role of the Black Press” at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Friday, March 16.
“I’m pretty fired up about education,” Rolark Barnes said of the current state of education in the Black community. “As we celebrate 191 years of the Black Press in America, it’s important to remember that the education of Black people is rooted in the Black Press and the Black Church.”
Rolark Barnes also reminded the audience that one of the founders of the Black Press, Samuel Cornish, graduated from the Free African School and became a minister, before he started the Freedom’s Journal.
Shelton noted that the Black Press has been the voice of the Black community for a very long time; the NAACP Washington bureau chief also said that education is the bridge over troubled waters.
Kirton recounted a false, yet familiar adage that suggested that “The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book.” Kirton used the saying to shine a light on the paucity of high-quality education options in the Black community.
“I got into the [education] fight, because I want to make a difference,” Kirton said.
Valentine advocated for increased parental engagement in our schools at every level.
“We need policies that are more welcoming for our parents to come in,” Valentine said.
“We want programs in our schools, so that children understand what [parental engagement] is all about,” Woodruff said.
In 2017, the NNPA received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a three-year, multi-media public awareness campaign focusing on the unique opportunities and challenges related to the implementation of ESSA, according to a press release about the campaign.
Under the ESSA, states have more flexibility under federal regulations to design customized solutions to improve elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools. The law also ensures that every child, regardless of race, income, background, or where they live can obtain a high-quality education; ESSA received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015.
The NNPA selected Primas, a decorated and award-winning educator, as program manager and she famously refers to all her students as her children.
“‘My children’” are all of the children in schools that have been underserved, undereducated, and for all intents and purposes, forgotten about,” Primas said.