e-wayne-gent_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH – A task force initially created in 2010 to come up with ways of boosting the graduation rate of black male students, while reducing the number of school suspensions reported its progress Tuesday.

The task force reported that in 2012 the graduation rate climbed slightly from 64 percent to 66 percent. But only 36 percent of black students have attained reading proficiency.

The numbers must increase, said School District of Palm Beach County Superintendent of Schools E. Wayne Gent. “That is unacceptable,” he said.

More than 100 people, including school district personnel and residents, packed the boardroom of the Fulton-Holland Educational Services Center, 3300 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach, for the meeting.

Three years ago then Superintendent Art Johnson set up the African American Male Task Force which has been renamed The Superintendent’s Graduation Increase and

Suspension Reduction Task Force. It comprises students, parents, teachers, administrators, school district personnel, community leaders and business partners and works through 10 committees.

They deal with topics such as attendance/dropouts, business partnerships and grants, college and career readiness, student empowerment, communication and public relations, early childhood/elementary interventions and curriculum, instructional pedagogy, parent and community involvement, guidance school counseling/mentoring and student empowerment and teacher recruitment/retention and professional development.

Gent provided an overview of the problem and statistics and each committee provided an update on its strategies and recommitted itself to boosting the education of African-American students.

The task force also touted its major accomplishment – creation of the Roosevelt Leadership Academy for Young Men, in West Palm Beach, which opened last year as the district’s first-ever single-gender program.

Each task force committee will work on an action plan which will be reviewed in a March 3 meeting. The group is expected to see positive results by June. Besides increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the suspension and dropout rates, it is also planning a stronger emphasis on the African-American curriculum and increasing students’ skills in science, reading, math and social studies.

The task force is looking for best practices and strategies. In the past, it has looked at strategies such as how black males learn, how to teach them, and even brain research.

Gent appealed for community support. “It can’t be done by Wayne Gent,” he said. “It must be done with your help. It will require boldness and controversial decisions – some of them I have to make.”

Johnson convened the task force after the Schott Foundation for Public Education released its nationwide report on black males showing that, during the 2007-08 academic year, only 22 percent of black males graduated with their class in Palm Beach County schools. That statistic had put Palm Beach County among the worst five districts nationwide in graduating black males in schools with an enrollment of 10,000 or more black males.

“The challenge is still there. We have to see what can we do as a team to change it,” Gent said Tuesday night.