CALIFORNIA CITY — With its members having reached an impasse, primarily over bylaws and electing officers, the Mojave Unified School District’s African-American Advisory Council will look at restructuring to be a more effective advocate for student needs.
Dan Sexton, Director of Curriculum Integration and Educational Partnerships, suggested the restructuring at the Dec. 12 Board of Trustees meeting. He stressed the restructuring was not an attempt to disband the group, but to make more effective a body District officials feel is important to maintain.
The Council was formed at the end of the 2018 school year in response to parents’ concerns about African-American students in the district.
The group, with Sexton as district liaison, began meeting monthly in November 2018. They made recommendations that were incorporated into the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan this year, but have seemed to have difficulty beyond that in making progress beyond debating the group’s structure, Sexton said.
“Unfortunately, for the past few months, the council has reached an impasse primarily due to disagreements surrounding the bylaws, officer positions and elections,” he said.
As such, attendance at meetings has dwindled to a handful, with no community members attending, and the council membership is down to seven people of a total of 18 seats, he said.
The Council bylaws were based on those of a similar group in Bakersfield, and have been the subject of repeated debate to alter following issues with officer elections in May. Several subcommittees have been formed to study the matter, to no avail.
“Essentially, we’re so distracted by bylaws and the structure of the thing that we are no longer serving the original purpose of putting the students first and trying to increase those outcomes,” Sexton said.
“My recommendation is if the bylaws are the problem — it’s not the people — if the bylaws are the problem, let’s get rid of the bylaws, let’s get to something that works,” he said.
Sexton suggested changing the structure of the organization, but not its membership, to be more of a focus group than a formal council with bylaws and officers. The members bring a wide variety of experience and talents that are well-suited to the advisory role.
On those occasions when the Council has moved away from the formality, they have had effective discussions, he said.
Reorganizing the Council to focus more on students and less on structure should allow the group to more effectively advise on matters with the same membership.
Other needs for engagement with the African-American community could be met through larger quarterly forums to provide input to the LCAP, and at the classroom level with student focus groups and staff discussions, Sexton said.
“We have a very passionate group of people who are ready to do a lot of heavy lifting. We just need to unlock that potential and basically free everyone up to have that conversation,” he said.
African-American Advisory Council Secretary Warren Batiste said he felt the Council’s problems stem from a lack of direction from the Board on topics such as whether or not they were required to follow the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.
He also cited a lack of recognition from the Board.
“I felt you guys let us down,” he told the Board. “I’ve never seen nothing as far as us on the agenda until tonight, when you guys want to disable us.”
“I think what needs to happen is the restructuring needs to occur to where the District does not have their hands involved in the committee and let us advise you on topics that is needed for our African-American students in Cal City,” he said. “Right now I feel that we are being placed as a puppet” being forced to only consider topics as presented by Sexton.
Trustee Larry Adams said the Council has never approached the Board at any meeting with its requests.
“You’re welcome to come give us advice about your children at any meeting. We’d be happy to listen,” Adams said.
Several Council members spoke before the Board, illustrating the impasse with differing views of how the group functions, between those who feel the group does not have the respect and support of the Board of Trustees and those who feel the Council officers are not functioning to support the group’s aims and that disputes among members are hampering the progress.
“What I’m hearing here is the problem is two-sided,” Adams said, within the Council itself and with receiving feedback from the Board. “What we need to do is have your leadership write down what it is you want us to do, and then we will tell you what we can do for the committee (Council) to make it better and to make it work for the same reasons we all want it work, for the kids.”
“I want you to get the (Council) functioning well and then come and give us a recommendation so we can start trying to implement it,” he said.