Imagine your child is testing far below state education standards. The school district knows it, they have a tool to help, but they’re not telling you about it. That is the current situation for black parents with kids in the San Francisco Unified School District, and it is hurting their prospects for a brighter future.
The SFUSD has an emergency on its hands — in the 2016-17 school year, 74 percent of black students did not meet state standards in at least one subject area. The district’s African American Parent Advisory Committee is meant to educate parents on how to navigate the system, but despite the dire situation for its black students, the district isn’t actively marketing the AAPAC to parents.
I am a single mother of two school-aged children. I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I am a product of the SFUSD. It is not easy raising my kids in such an expensive city, and with the population of African-Americans diminishing, it’s hard for my kids to even see people who look like them. To offset those challenges, I have adopted a village-style mindset for raising my kids, which means I actively put people in place to assist with their development.
That is why I am so thankful for programs like Vision Academy for keeping my kids safe and sound, and Back On Track, which provides them with one-on-one tutoring. My son also attends a Saturday program called Urban Ed Academy, which plays a crucial role in his life.
All of these pieces are integral for my kids’ development. As their parent, I am always looking for resources and tools for myself as well, which is how I began participating in AAPAC meetings. Most black parents in San Francisco don’t know about the AAPAC, but they should. Unfortunately, the school district doesn’t do much to spread the word, but they also should — especially given the severe achievement gap between black kids and their white classmates.
Attending the AAPAC meetings has given me priceless information about how to navigate the SFUSD system. I have learned that it is not impossible to do — it’s just overwhelming if you don’t know what your rights are as a parent, and how to properly advocate for your child.
So far, the AAPAC has provided information about dealing with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), restorative practices, and how to ensure schools have cultural balance beyond black history month. The variety of subject matter covered at meetings allows parents to make informed decisions. There is strength in numbers, and with parent participation, our children cannot be overlooked. But without the AAPAC, I believe the systematic racism that plagues our school district will not change, because parents won’t have the tools to address it.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of parent participation in the AAPAC (even though childcare and dinner is provided). The school district doesn’t seem interested in doing more than what it is already doing to market the AAPAC to parents, even though the situation for black students in the SFUSD is so bad the local NAACP called it a state of emergency.
Like any mother, my kids’ education is of the utmost importance to me, and I will sacrifice anything for them to excel. I know parents are busy, but the AAPAC could significantly benefit their kids, and they need to be told how.
My parenting strategy is to actively engage with the school system — through activities like attending the AAPAC meetings — to provide my kids with opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily receive. I have seen firsthand that if I put in the work, good things will stick.
The AAPAC meetings have been incredibly helpful for navigating the system for my kids, especially when it comes to advocating for my son. I encourage all black parents with kids in the SFUSD to attend, and I urge the SFUSD to intensify outreach to parents so more of them know it is an option. It is well worth the time for everyone involved.
Tandia O’Neal is a Bayview resident and the parent of two students who have gone through SFUSD.