Posted on August 5, 2004

Diversity Tips For Elk Grove Schools

Jocelyn Wiener,, Aug. 3

Someday, bullying would disappear from the campuses of the Elk Grove Unified School District. No one would be teased for being gay, or sit in the back of a classroom feeling isolated and forgotten.

Minority students would not be expelled at disproportionate rates. Staff diversity would mirror that of students. Parents who needed interpreters would have them. A climate of fear would be replaced by one of openness.

But first, a task force report concludes, the district must make student unity its primary mission.

That task force — appointed in the spring to examine race relations and diversity in Elk Grove schools — issued its final recommendations to the school board Monday night.

Rudolph “Barry” Loncke, the retired Sacramento Superior Court judge who served as chair of the Task Force on Expectations for Student Unity, stood before the board, staff and about 50 members of the public to summarize ideas gleaned from more than 20 meetings with students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members.

Among those recommendations:

* Attract, train, and retain minority teachers in the district.

* Create small learning environments in overcrowded schools.

* Nurture all young leaders — not just those in honors classes and student government.

* Implement disciplinary measures fairly and consistently.

* Create campus “unity” teams.

* Make schools more accessible to parents and reach out to community members.

“Why do you want to act on our recommendations?” Loncke asked the board. “I suggest you do it not out of a feeling of guilt that Elk Grove Unified School District is deficient in any way. . . . We believe you will be among the leaders.”

Loncke acknowledged the difficulties of overcrowding and tight budgets, but urged the district not to wait: “Some of the innovative things you might do don’t cost much.”

He highlighted the importance of a student buy-in in fostering a sense of school unity.

“If they don’t embrace it, it won’t happen,” he said. “So your job as a district is to make it happen by somehow convincing the students it’s in their best interest.”

David Gordon, the district’s former superintendent, convened the 13-member task force in the aftermath of two race-related incidents in February.

Early in the month, authorities arrested a freshman and a sophomore from Laguna Creek High School and charged them with plotting to kill their classmates. The boys also have been accused of targeting African American students. The trial is set for Oct. 12.

On Feb. 18, some 100 white and African American students began fighting after a security guard at Elk Grove High School unplugged a boombox.

“We’ve known it has existed, we knew we had to talk about it, it just took a couple incidents to get us started,” trustee Pollyanna Cooper-LeVangie said. “But we’re there.”

District officials said they would report back to the board with their findings in October.