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Inside View

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

  Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.          
                    - Andy Rooney
 

 

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to appoint a teacher to lead the U.S. Department of Education, should he be elected President of the United States, according to Politico. So has Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also a front runner in the campaign for the Democratic Partyís presidential nomination. Fellow candidate Senator Kamala Harris, while not specifically mentioning teachers, has promised to select ďsomeone from public schoolsĒ for her Education secretary should her presidential campaign succeed.

What do teachers bring to education reform, policy and administrative oversight?

Or to be more precise, what impact might the perspective of teachers bring to an area like Lucas County, which has a higher rate of poverty, a lower median household income and has underperformed in terms of higher education achievement compared to the rest of Ohio.

Perry Lefevre is currently a candidate for a 2nd consecutive term on the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education. He has been a teacher for 33 years and is still in the class room where he teaches an Advanced Placement class in Government.

I had a one-on-one conversation with Lefevre about his participation on the Toledo School Board and how his experience as a teacher provides a unique and real, lived ďback stageĒ vantage on education oversight, policy and reform.

Perryman: Having been an educator all of your professional life and being known as the ďteacher on the School Board,Ē you certainly bring an insiderís view to education. How does your insider perspective affect your role as board member?

Lefevre:  I do believe that I have the knowledge and experience to understand and sometimes anticipate where things are going to go. Iíve been in the situations where I think I know what should be done, what is the right thing to be done and, then again, why some things just canít happen.  But throughout my career Iíve tried to be a problem solver. I have a lot of experience beyond the classroom and I understand the structure of the public school. I understand the interplay with unions and parent groups and the state. And because of that, I believe I have the ability to solve problems.

Perryman: You currently teach in Sylvania Schools?

Lefevre:  Yes.

Perryman: Does teaching in the suburban context place you at a disadvantage when making decisions affecting an urban district with a predominately minority demographic?

Lefevre:  Thatís a fair question.  We do have a growing minority population in Sylvania and in fact, I will tell you that one of my biggest concerns for TPS, is the fact that the minority population is growing in the suburban districts and we are going to have greater challenges attracting minority educators to TPS because the suburbs are starting to realize they want to hire minority educators as well.  Iíve lived here (South Toledo) for 30 years. I do not believe that you can live in a city and not be aware of minority issues.  Iíve raised my kids here and sent my kids to TPS so I think I really have an understanding of both. 

Perryman: Letís talk about the impact of your presence on the board since you were elected in 2015.

Lefevre:  Well, you know I donít want to start with this, but I will because I really like to focus on education, but I also have 30 yearsí experience in education labor.  Iíve been a strong member of my own union and I have been a president of a teacherís union, and I understand the law when it comes to education.  And the year I came on the board, there had been quite a bit of issues with negotiations here but it was my experience, Iíd like to think, that got us through that period.

And, weíve actually had a couple of negotiations since then and theyíve been quiet and theyíve been successful and Iím looking forward to another one next year.  Iím a firm believer in whatís called interest-based bargaining and TPS has adopted that since Iíve come on board.  So, I think my timing in coming on the board was important because I have that background, but I will tell you thatís not my focus.  I really do want to focus on the educational aspect and the curricular aspect because thatís really more important to me.  Iím just happy to have that extra experience to bring along.

Perryman: Letís talk first about the districtís challenges. One, in particular, deals with potential takeover of the district by the State of Ohio. Where does that currently stand?

Lefevre:  There are interests that want to privatize public education and essentially divert the money for public education to probably charter schools, vouchers and private interests.  Their plan would essentially eliminate the Academic Distress Commissions, but still allow a kind of state takeover that puts us into this limbo status of trying to be improving from, what I read, weíll never get out of.  

So, itís kind of hard to explain to the folks that arenít in education because itís a big deal when the state tries to take over these school districts and they donít really provide any improvement themselves.  Now they get to be judges by determining what the grade cards look like and how they will be determined, and then get to be essentially executioner by taking over the school district and saying theyíre going to improve it. And, the three school districts that have been taken over so far, Cleveland, East Cleveland and Lorain, have not shown any improvement under these Academic Distress Commissions.  So, in a nutshell, itís still better to leave it under the control of local school districts rather than the state. 

Perryman: Isnít it true though, that if the district continues to receive Fís, it appears that either students are not able to learn or else thereís something deficient with the teaching.  We know that black students can learn, so why canít we get out of an F rating?

Lefevre:  Well, again, I think part of the thing is we are going to get out of F rating and obviously students can learn.

But I donít know that the teaching is the problem and I donít believe it is.  I think part of it or a large part of it is the testing and I think thereís where we have a challenge. Because the problem with standardized testing as a basis for anything is that it makes the assumption that every kid is going to come in on the same day at the same time and be able to perform at the same way. Regardless of what that kidís previous night looked like, what their life looked like, what their family situation looked like, what anything looked like, we make this assumption that performance on this single test is a determiner of a kidís achievement, and that is wrong. 

I think the worst thing we do is the third-grade reading guarantee, because now weíre putting a high stakes test on an eight-year-old.  No other country does that.  No other country puts those kinds of high stakes test on kids that are growing.  If youíve seen any of the studies about what Finland or Japan does, they donít even start giving any tests to these kids until theyíre in the fourth or fifth grade because they donít believe in testing kids that young because of the pressure. 

So, itís got a lot to do with non-educators down in Columbus making educational law, and they donít really trust us or ask for input from educators like myself, because none of us think standardized testing for a determinant on achievement is the way to go.  So no, thatís our biggest challenge is to improve those scores.

Perryman: The suburban schools, however, are performing fine.  Is it that we donít understand African-American students or we donít understand African-American students who are in poverty?  Yet, research shows that even African-American students who are middle class will underperform on standardized tests compared to others.

Lefevre:  I do believe poverty is a big factor for us in TPS, but I also know youíre right, that there are African Americans in the suburbs who perform lower, but there are African Americans in the suburbs who perform higher as well, so Iím not sure.  There may still be an income factor there as well, even in the suburbs, because now we have a greater number of low-income housing opportunities in the suburbs, so the school district has a variety of socio-economic classes represented, even amongst African Americans in the suburbs.  So that would explain that to some extent.  I, myself, have African-American students that perform at the very top and then others that, as you suggest, may not perform as well on standardized testing. 

Perryman: How does the shortage of African-American teachers affect educational outcomes and what are you doing to address that?

Lefevre: There was just a study that came out yesterday that confirmed that African-American students, especially boys, do better when they have African-American role models as teachers in that classroom.  They graduate more often and they do better on standardized tests, so yes, I know that thatís there.  Weíre going to have to do more to attract them because growing our own is not enough. And, weíre going to have to start dealing with competing suburbs or suburban districts as their minority populations grow.  So, itís a challenge, but I think weíre addressing it as well as anybody is, especially with our Teach for Toledo.  I can tell you that thereís more opportunity in the suburbs for better pay and that might be a big factor, especially as theyíre starting to recruit more. 

Perryman: I was recently trying to find a historic picture of the old Frederick Douglass Center, which I went to as a youngster when it was on Pinewood and 13th . I came up empty on the google image search, but I did keep running into historical names in Toledoís past, like Brand Whitlock and John E. Gunckel, Jessup W. Scott and Edward Drummond Libbey.

While we are honored to have an Ella P. Stewart and Emory Leverette school, most of our Toledo schools are named after white men from the turn of the century.  How about naming some new schools or renaming existing schools after those more contemporary African Americans and Latinx who have made an impact on this city? Certainly, a Jack Ford School would be in order.

Lefevre:  I think Jack Ford would be right at the top, without a doubt. Ford certainly was impactful on the City of Toledo in my lifetime and having met Jack myself on a few occasions, I would not have a problem with that at all. 

And, letís be honest, at some point in time weíre going have to also name something after labor union activist Baldemar Velasquez of FLOC. Toledoans donít know how well heís known outside of Toledo. 

Perryman: What process is required to name schools?

Lefevre:  We as Toledoans identify ourselves by our neighborhood elementary school and changing them would be a fairly significant change. But again, does the name still reflect the neighborhood?  Does the neighborhood still identify with the name of the school?  So, I would probably start with the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and then work through that. 

The board, so much that we do is really in response to community interest and community initiatives.  I think if a community came to us with a resolution for either one of those ideas thereís no question that we would support it. I would have no problem in considering naming buildings after someone from the African American or Latinx community that contributed to Toledo.  

 (to be continued)

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org

 

 
  

Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/11/19 09:20:05 -0400.

 

 


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