The need to support Latino students has never been more critical.
As families struggle, so do students. Our negative and uncertain times strike directly at children’s ability to focus on academics and forces them to face enormous social and emotional pressures — at times without hope.
Across the United States and in our home state of California, leaders from district superintendents to elected and civic leaders must step up to support the many students and families who are suffering from increased intimidation, hostility, and even violence brought on by our changing political climate. We must be champions of the idea that all students have a legal right to an education, regardless of any differences.
As executive director of the California Latino Superintendents Association, I am all too familiar with the urgency of increasing the number of Latino students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Latino students have lower graduation rates, higher high school drop-out rates, and few transition to our UC system. Thirty percent of Latinos drop out of high school and only 29 percent of Latino graduates complete college preparatory classes.
The challenges Latino students face are entrenched, systemic, and begin early in students’ academic lives: Latino youth are less likely than other children to enroll in preschool (43 percent of Latino children ages 3-5 are not enrolled in prekindergarten programs). Thirty-eight percent of Latino children in California live in poverty – a far larger percentage than their non-Latino peers – and 56 percent of kindergartners held back in 2009 were Latino.
To change these entrenched inequalities, we need more Latino and Latina superintendents to lead our school districts. There is a growing understanding that leaders of the same background and race as their students can foster increased engagement, confidence, trust, relationships, and comfort. They understand their community, the barriers Latinos face, and many of the supports they need. Advocates of increased diversity do not argue that every student needs to be taught or led by a leader of his or her same race, but all leaders must be culturally proficient.
Regardless of their race or ethnic background, superintendents across our state are courageously providing protections and reflecting on the rights of the students they are obligated to serve. I have seen today’s superintendents develop and issue to their communities “fact sheets” pertaining to undocumented students’ and families’ rights. Their efforts have also extended to providing clarity on staff rights and obligations. Very often, this is in connection to possible actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and other government authorities.
Superintendents have also created “parents’ rights” notifications and summaries that inform parents of items and issues connected to emergency cards, emergency information, and privacy rights. Lastly, a high number of school boards, in conjunction with their superintendents, have declared their school districts “sanctuaries” or “safe havens” by adopting policies to protect students to the extent they are able under the law, so students can focus on school, thereby removing much of the anxiety that can distort a student’s academic progress.
To provide the ongoing support that our students deserve, we are committed as an organization to working cooperatively with stakeholders across California to strengthen the legislative, community and academic foundation for all students, but especially Latino students. An important step will be our “One Voice Assembly” in Sacramento today to promote success in college and careers. The assembly is designed to surface fresh thinking and actionable solutions to the college-readiness crisis among Latino students.
The inequalities are simply too great – and too important – to ignore. Our future as a state and a country relies on the success and enfranchisement of all our students, regardless of their race, background, religion or socioeconomic status. As with everything our organization does, we are striving to advance and maximize equitable paths and opportunities for the students that we serve. In this challenging time, we owe it to our students to do everything in our power to help them reach their educational goals.
David Verdugo is the Executive Director of the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA).
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