Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

Focus on Quality Education for All Children

Dear Editor:

I am writing in reference to the front Page article of Tuesday, February 19, 2013, "Is unitary status best?" I find the article, and more specifically, the statements made in that piece most distressing.

I moved with my family to Minden in 1975 from Marshall, Texas. My three children had been attending integrated schools in Marshall. My position with Thiokol Corp. (LAAP) brought us to Minden. So, we have lived here 38 years.

All three of my children attended Minden schools into high school, two are Minden High graduates.

Soon after purchasing a home and settling in Minden, I was asked by Mrs. Pat Walker Stephens to serve on a city wide bi-racial committee (Minden Public School Council) formed to smooth the transition from segregated public schools to integrated ones. I suppose I was asked because I would have an "outsiders" view of integration; had children in public schools; and had the experience of actually having children in integrated schools for a number of years.

I was pleased to serve my new community in such an critical effort. I believe the committee functioned for several years and I participated for three years (1975-1978). I remarked to my new Minden friends, if I closed my eyes in the meetings, I could not tell if the individual speaking was black or white. I considered this a real plus.

What I did hear was an almost universal desire by the members (half black & half white, one third teachers and school staff, one third from business, and one third parents) for their children to be taught by THE BEST TEACHERS. There was no perceived desire to establish quotas. Parents wanted QUALITY NOT COLOR. The driving message of integration was "SEPARATE is NOT EQUAL".

My son was placed in Webster Jr. High, my oldest daughter in Phillips (6th grade) and my youngest daughter in Harper. We were very impressed by the Principal of Phillips, Mr. S. B. Turner (who was black and ran a "tight ship").

I cannot recall any discussion in the committee of quotas for teachers; members generally agreed it would be a good practice to have Principals and Assistant Principals of different race when possible. A goal, not a "must be".

I was part of the reduction of personnel at LAAP, ending my employment by Thiokol after 32 years, the end of 1992. I was asked by Mrs. Sue Gruber, President of the Chamber of Commerce, to help the Webster Police Jury and the Chamber of Commerce to develop a Department of

Defense Grant Request for planning in-order-to mitigate the impact of the downsizing of employment at LAAP. Our efforts were successful and grants totaling approximately $180,000 were obtained. I became the manager for the grants.

During 1993 and 1994, meetings were held throughout the parish where attendees were asked to participate in "Focus Groups".

One of the groups focused on schools and education. Interestingly, regardless of the stated subject of each focus group, they evolved into a spirited discussion of the public schools; again race did not play a major roll, but QUALITY of teaching and in school discipline were addressed at every "town meeting" on economic development. The citizens recognized, without prompting, good jobs required an educated workforce, and the drop-out rate before high school graduation impacted the entire community (it was approximately 50% at the time).

Now, in the subject news article, "We have a restriction in the court order that the ratio should be 64/36 percent (white teacher to black teacher ratio) and that hasn't been met." Sounds like the "panel" who made this comment was calling for a quota; SHOULD does not mean MUST. The next comment "...now there are 82.8 percent white to 17.2 percent black" "...compared to the current number of white students 55.3 percent to black students 42.6 percent." Nowhere was the concept of QUALITY mentioned, only ratios (perhaps 64/36 or now perhaps 55/45). Further, a speaker stated, "Our kids need to see us (the black race) represented in those positions (as educators and supervisors)." Is it more important to meet a ratio or to provide the best educators, black, white or "green"? Is it not better to see teachers in positions because they have the highest qualifications, not because of some quota?

I thought there was going to be a call for world class teaching, when I read, "It's not about one individual or one organization, but about the children." Wrong. A few words later, it was followed by, "I am challenging you to not let this be a one-time event. We need to hold the school board representatives accountable." I agree the school board should be held accountable, for the QUALITY of education provided; not for the COLOR of the teacher's skin.

Please, citizens of Webster Parish, tell your school board representatives to focus on quality of the education provided to ALL of the children and not be sidetracked by these sideshows. We have graduated black (and white) students who have gone to and graduated from our Countries' Service Academies, both races have had valedictorians.

Unfortunately too many children are continuing to drop out of high school before graduation, or if they graduate having to take REMEDIAL classes if they enter college.

My answer to the question, "Is unitary status best?" is YES. Because the "panel" urged, "We need to hold the school board representatives accountable". Without unitary status, only a Federal Judge is "responsible". The Judge is NOT "accountable" to anyone in Minden, Webster Parish or the State of Louisiana.

The school board is ultimately accountable to the voters of Webster Parish, for the quality of Public School education.

Lee C. Estabrook






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