I believe the children are
our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show
them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense
of pride, to make it easier.
Those were the words to
the chart-topping R&B song “Greatest Love of All” that the
late silver-tongued diva Whitney Houston so passionately
belted out in 1984. Written by Michael Masser and Linda
Creed as a biopic of Muhammad Ali, the tune was originally
recorded in 1977 by famed guitarist George Benson.
Never before, however,
have these lyrics seemed more relevant than they are today.
Three Democratic Party
candidates are running for only two seats on Toledo Public
Schools school board at a time when too many low-income
youth are leaving school without the education and training
required by today’s labor market economy.
Who is looking out for our
children’s future to ensure that they are prepared for
college, work and life? Who is providing our youth with
meaningful alternatives to high levels of unemployment,
incarceration or poverty so they might succeed beyond high
I spoke with Perry Lefevre,
who is a candidate for re-election to the Toledo Public
Schools Board of Education. The Board is charged with
providing leadership, guidance and oversight to Toledo
Public Schools to ensure that its 22,000 students enter and
successfully navigate the public school system and exit with
the opportunity to have a successful future.
This is the final segment
of our two-part conversation.
Perryman: Having talked
about the challenges of educating children in an urban
setting with high poverty rates, let’s talk about the
successes you’ve experienced since being elected to the
Lefevre: I think if
somebody was to ask me what we’ve achieved in my four years,
I would definitely say expanded opportunities and I believe
those expanded opportunities have led to our dramatic
increase to our graduation rate. If you look at Career Tech
programs, the Advancement Via Individual Determination
program (AVID), College Credit Plus (CCP) courses or
Advanced Placement (AP), which we’ve expanded opportunities
across the board. I believe those programs are what’s
leading our increased graduation rate.
If kids get into a Career
Tech program, they are 94 percent graduated. That’s where
we’re getting our graduation increases at, so we’ve got to
attract more kids to those programs and that’s one of my
goals. I would love to make it a district policy that every
kid is in one of these programs because they are going to
learn something that I absolutely believe we need to be
teaching more, and that’s rigor. We need to do a better job
of teaching rigor to high school students and I know those
programs do it.
Perryman: How do you define
Lefevre: It means that I
have the tools, I have the ability to overcome challenges
instead of throwing up my hands and giving up. Rigor, to
me, means that I have worked hard on something and achieved
and worked very hard and actually turned my achievement into
a success, and it makes me want to go work harder.
Now, for me, I didn’t have
to work that hard in high school and I achieved after
learning the hard way, and I know a lot of kids who are also
like that. Unfortunately, they get to college and they’re
just not prepared and that’s why I promote these programs,
because those classes have rigor. The students are
challenged. They have to work harder in those classes.
Perryman: Please elaborate
on some of these special programs.
Lefevre: College Credit
Plus (CCP) has classes that students take in high school
that qualify both as high school credit and college credit.
If you happened to see Whitney Hughes, she is the
valedictorian at Jones, and Whitney had 53 college credit
hours of CCP credit, which meant she essentially took 53
hours of college credit as a high school student, and she
got recruited and is going to New York University this
fall. She is definitely one of our success stories out of
Jones Leadership Academy and she is partially done with
college already because she took these CCP classes. And I
want to see more students doing CCP, AP and Career Tech
because the rigor is there. AVID does the same thing.
Perryman: Please tell me
more about AVID
Lefevre: AVID is a kind
of a specialized training program that basically works to
close the achievement gap. The program takes lower
performing students and puts them in an elective in which
they have the opportunity to learn skills that make them
more college ready. AVID will allow any student, but
especially African-American students, to learn skills to
achieve. Students acquire note-taking skills, group
discussion skills and presentation skills and they get to
work in smaller teams. There is a cultural relevance aspect
to working in smaller groups.
TPS is going to have
district-wide training on that this summer. I myself am
traveling to an AVID conference to get that training myself
because I’m a big supporter of AVID and I believe AVID as a
program really tries to overcome some of the achievement
Perryman: You’ve got some
good things going. We probably don’t hear enough about
Lefevre: I understand
that. And unfortunately, sometimes I think it’s an urban
school district thing, that folks don’t look at the
positive, they only look at the negative when it comes to
urban school districts. And I know Dr. Durant does the same
thing when he tries to promote the positives because there
is so much going on, and that’s why he’s so frustrated with
the grade card because what that F essentially does is
ignore all of our success and basically tells our students
you’re not successful. It says that even though you’ve
achieved all this, you’re not successful because the state
has set this bar that quite frankly is difficult for large
urbans to achieve.
Perryman: Is it possible
that the people affected positively are just too few in
Lefevre: No, I don’t
believe that either. Again, if you look at the numbers, we
are still dealing with this idea of 24 to 25 percent of our
students living in poverty and are homeless at some point in
time during the school year. There’s not another city in
the state that’s dealing with that. We also have 25 percent
of our student population that are on some form of special
ed, that’s the largest number in Northwest Ohio.
Perryman: 25 percent are
homeless and 25 percent on some type of special ed?
Lefevre: Yes. And at 25
percent homeless, again, that’s not a state which they’re in
perpetually, it is a night-to-night, week-to-week situation
where we call it couch surfing. They don’t know where
they’re going to be, necessarily, next week. We have
students that change schools once, twice, three times a
school year, and why? Because they’ve been removed or
thrown out or whatever from their home where they were
staying and now, they have all the challenges of a new
school, a new setting.
We try to adjust this and
I’ll work with anybody on this, but the one company that I’m
actually courting, is Anthem Insurance. Last year they
donated 25 hydroponics kits to our fifth grade classes in
about half of our elementaries and we’re teaching the kids
hydroponics. They’re growing their own food and in fact, at
Marshall before the end of the school year, we brought in a
chef from one of the downtown restaurants, and he taught the
kids how to prepare the food they had grown.
So, these hydroponic
programs are great and Anthem paid for that. It’s called
the Big Green Bronx Machine. Well, Anthem was so pleased
with the success of that, they’ve come back to us this year
and they just wanted to offer $100,000 to try to alleviate
some of the pressures on our homeless population, and they
wanted to give that money to essentially pay back bills, pay
the penalties, pay their back rent, those kind of things,
try to catch folks up, which I understand completely.
Heather Baker, who also was phenomenal on this, suggested
that we divert some of that money to our summer leadership
program for those homeless kids. So now those kids are
getting leadership training paid for by Anthem. Anthem’s
money is now being used to…basically, you can feed a man a
fish or you can teach him how to fish. I like to think
these leadership academies are teaching kids how to be
leaders, they’re teaching them how to fish.
Perryman: Are there other
notable programs or projects to help our children to become
more likely to succeed?
Lefevre: Oh yeah, oh
yeah. We haven’t even talked about the new department we
created, the EDI Department, the Equity, Diversity and
Inclusion Department that we’re working on. I’ve been very
much involved in that as well, and I will tell you that has
been some of the most productive discussions I’ve been in.
I’ve been to all the committee meetings I could make.
Treva Jeffries is running
that department along with Hope Bland. They have just been
phenomenal, and we’re still in the creation stage. We’re
still trying to figure out exactly what its role is going to
be, but we’re cutting edge. There’s not another school
district in the state that doing anything like that.
Perryman: Thank you very
Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at