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Raising the Bar

Organizations from Westchester County partnered together to present 'Raising the Bar on Academic Achievement: Improving School Climate and Discipline for Westchester's African-American Students" at Pace Law School's Judicial Institute. The summit was produced by the Westchester County African American Advisory Board, Westchester County Department of Mental Health, Student Advocacy, Westchester Children's Association, and YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.

"We have an achievement gap in this country that leaves too many children unprepared to go to college, find a good job or even graduate," said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino, who spoke at the summit. "Students who are chronically absent or suspended from school are far less likely to graduate on time and be college-ready, and they are far more likely to engage in at-risk behaviors. Turning that around requires ensuring our kids are in the classroom and learning while they are there."

According to "The State of Education for African American Students," published by The Education Trust, 69 percent of African-American students graduated from high school on time in 2012 compared to 86 percent of white students who graduated on schedule. In Westchester for the 2013-2014 school year, only 63 percent of African-American students in Westchester graduated on schedule and the dropout rate was seven percent versus three percent for all general education students.

Dr. Edward Fergus, assistant professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, delivered the keynote address. He is a practitioner and researcher whose work explores the effects of how educational policy and practices in areas such as suspensions and special education can adversely affect male students of color. He is the author of "Skin Color and Identity Formation: Perceptions of Opportunity and Academic Orientation Among Mexican and Puerto Rican Youth" and co-author of the book "Schooling For Resilience: Improving Trajectory of Black and Latino Boys."

Additional presenters at the summit included:

  • Anne Gregory, associate professor at Rutgers University, the lead author of the March 2014 paper, "How Educators Can Eradicate Disparities in School Discipline: A Briefing Paper on School-Based Interventions."
  • Emily Morgan, senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the lead author of the recently released "The School Discipline Consensus Report: Strategies from the Field to Keep Students Engaged in School and Out of the Juvenile Justice System."
  • Jamal Doggett, principal at Longfellow Elementary School, Mount Vernon, credits team leadership, collaborative planning, data-driven decision making and implementation of research-based strategies for the increased achievement at Longfellow Elementary.

In addition to the panel presentations, breakout workshops facilitated discussions designed to get participants thinking about:

  • working with data to reduce out-of-school suspensions (what data needs to be collected)
  • improving relationships between schools, parents, and students
  • empowering students to help improve school climate and culture

The goal of the education summit is consistent with Astorino's Safer Communities initiative. In October 2013, Astorino unveiled the Safer Communities Blueprint, which focused on addressing the correlation between chronic school absenteeism and at risk behaviors by young people. The Blueprint was produced by the Safer Communities Action Network, a group of 40 volunteers with a wide variety of professional expertise who worked alongside members of the county's departments of Health, Community Mental Health and Public Safety. The initial focus on school absenteeism and suspensions was recommended by the Action Network, which concluded that efforts in Yonkers and Mount Vernon to reduce school absenteeism had been beneficial and should be expanded.

For more information about 'Raising the Bar on Academic Achievement,' follow the summit on Facebook and Twitter or contact:

Sarah Yergeau, (914) 946-7676 x308 or