By Jonathan Whitaker Mid Valley Publications
When Allen Brooks won a special election last year to fill a vacated seat on the Board of Education for the Merced City School District (MCSD), he said his mission was to help provide all local children with an equitable education, and to be a voice for the people.
Among his main concerns were improving literacy and the way reading and writing is taught at the early grade school level. He also aimed to improve communication between schools, parents and teachers.
“I didn’t want to go into this role and just shout out, at the top of my lungs, about the things I wanted to change,” Brooks told the Times in a recent interview. “I actually wanted to come in and study why certain things are the way they are… My mindset was for the long haul. I wasn’t going to leave this role until the education system was on the right track.”
The 44-year-old Brooks said he had a very productive first year; however, he’s already facing a re-election bid in a competitive race as his Area 3 seat goes back on the ballot in November to determine who will serve the next regular 4-year term. There are two other candidates running: Claudia Lucia Johnson and Domingo Flores.
Brooks is a local Realtor and president of the NAACP Branch in Merced. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Grambling State University in Louisiana on a football scholarship where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. There he met his wife Sheila, and the couple moved to Merced, which is Sheila’s hometown. They have three children, including one who attends a school in the local district.
The incumbent trustee says the last year was productive in part because the board hired a new superintendent — Diana Jiménez — to lead the district. Brooks has lauded the hire for being “future focused” that will add to equity and stability in the district. Among other praises, Jiménez recently received a Superintendent of the Year award from the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA).
Brooks hopes to work with Jiménez and educators across the district to improve literacy by looking at new ways to approach the teaching of reading and writing.
“Literacy has been huge on my radar,” Brooks said. “It’s one of the most important things one needs to become a productive member of society… If you look at our numbers in literacy and math performance, we are close to the bottom, and they’ve been the same for a long time. Of course, we should not be evaluating our students just by the numbers, but our numbers should be going up. We should be seeing some kind of increase.”
Brooks said he has been doing his own empirical research, and has been meeting with teachers across the district. He believes one of the main solutions to fixing the literacy gap problem is investing in professional development training for MCSD teachers, and working with intervention teachers and teacher-librarians. He said the district recently supported a partnership with the University of Pacific that drew about 90 local teachers to a workshop that dealt specifically with new approaches to teaching children how to read and write.
In addition, the trustee wants to back up that professional development with improving the way teachers are evaluated. Brooks said “student success” and “growth” should be major parts of a teacher’s evaluation.
“This year, I was able to champion the conversation and get the language into the contracts of teachers and staff regarding student growth based evaluations,” he told the Times.
Another area that needs ongoing attention, according to Brooks, is the way the district and its schools communicate with parents. The trustee would like to see more positive messages between schools and parents. Too often the messages parents receive are negative, he said.
“We need to start holding events and allow parents to be on campus so they can speak freely and interact with teachers and staff.” Brooks said. “Schools are the property of the community. For most of the day, they have our children — the most important people in our lives.”
Brooks considers himself as a parent, a community member, and an advocate.
“I’ve been volunteering my time for a long time — since my kids were in kindergarten,” he said. “Since I’ve been able to be on the board, I have learned a lot, and it has allowed me to become a better and stronger trustee for our community. I think my record speaks for itself. I’ve been on the board for a year and I’ve been able to accomplish some wonderful things.”
When asked about the two other candidates on the ballot, Brooks said he didn’t know them.
“I appreciate any community leader who wants to volunteer their time,” he said, “but my opponents have not done so. We don’t see them in the community.”
Brooks speculates that they could be backed by outside influence. “Merced is not for sale. We should not allow outside influence to come in and play with our children’s future… A lot of times they are not looking at Merced as moving it forward for the future. They are just there. No ideas. No voice. They are just there. I hope this doesn’t happen on our school board. If our education system is hijacked, then we are in trouble.”
The incumbent trustee adds, “I have demonstrated that I am competent. I have demonstrated that I’m here doing the work, and I have demonstrated that I’m able to get results.
“I’ve always advocated for parent’s choice, and I’ve consistently advocated for the parents, teachers, the administrators, and the staff. I’ve have always been a champion for the educators teaching our children. And I’ve always put the children first. I keep the main topic of conversation about our children.”
Bill Calling for Targeted Funding for Low-Performing Black Students Moves Forward
Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media: Posted July 5, 2022
A bill that would generate over $400 million for an estimated 785 public school districts across the state to provide critically needed academic support for Black students is on its way to the California Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Authored by Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), Assembly Bill (AB) 2774, passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a 7-0 vote on June 30, the last day before the Legislature’s summer recess.
“Thank you, CA State Senate Education Committee, for passing my bills,” Weber said via her Twitter account. “Our shared goals are to keep our students safe, provide opportunities for each of them to excel academically, and receive the support they need to stay in school and graduate.”
Weber introduced AB 2774 in February. The bill is co-authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Both are members of the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Before the Senate Education Committee vote, many supporters of the bill from around the state rallied in front of “the Swing Space” – temporary legislative offices while the Capitol is under renovation — to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the bill. The building is located one block south of the State Capitol.
Margaret Fortune, Fortune School of Education; Yolanda Moore, Clovis Unified Board of Education, Keshia Thomas, Fresno, Unified School District Board of Education, and students from Fresno, Sacramento, and Elk Grove made an appearance.
In addition, Sacramento County Democratic Party Chairperson Tracie Stafford, Chache Wright from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of San Bernardino, and Sacramento County Board of Education trustees Al Brown and Bina Lefkovitiz joined the supporters of AB 2774.
“There is an undeniable achievement gap when it comes to Black children and we cannot continue failing them,” Moore said. “Our students want to do better; they want to be held to a higher standard, but they need our focus and effort to get them there. AB 2774 would push for sustainable, equitable, and academic growth.”
AB 2774 addresses equity issues with the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which was created to provide
additional funding for the highest need students in California.
AB 2772 would amend the definition of “unduplicated pupils” for the 2023–24 fiscal year to include pupils who are included in the lowest-performing “subgroup or subgroups,” as defined in the language.
The subgroups identified as unduplicated pupils receiving supplemental funding include English Language learners, low-income students, and foster/homeless youth.
The adjustment is based on the most recently available mathematics or language arts results on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, as specified.
“I want to specifically call on the governor to support AB 2774,” Fortune said. “Everybody would agree that there is a crisis that 67% of Black kids can’t read at grade level in our public schools. Now it’s time for (Gov. Gavin Newsom) to stand in front of this issue. This group of students deserves support.”
The LCFF was enacted in 2013. Weber said over one-quarter of Black students are not receiving supplemental funding through LCFF.
In 2019, testing data showed that Black students are the lowest-performing subgroup on state standardized tests with 67% not passing English Language Arts (ELA) and 79% not meeting the Math standard.
AB 2774 states that the subgroup identified for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, based on the 2018-19 the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) scores “shall be included within the ‘unduplicated’ pupil count until its scores equal or exceeds the highest performing subgroup (Asian American students).”
AB 2774 would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to annually identify the lowest-performing pupil subgroup or subgroups and would authorize school districts and charter schools to review and revise their submitted data on pupils who are included in the lowest-performing subgroup or subgroups.
There are nearly 310,000 Black students enrolled in California’s public schools. Approximately 80,000 Black students in the state do not receive any additional funding under the LCFF, according to data compiled by the California Department of Education.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond supports the legislation.
“This is a state of emergency and we have been in a state of emergency for far too long and nothing has been done,” Thurmond said. “We cannot and will not continue to let our babies fall behind.”