South Bend City And School Leaders Hold Second Joint Meeting
Council and school board members, as well as South Bend Mayor James Mueller and School Superintendent Todd Cummings, met June 17 to discuss ways to improve education in South Bend.
The council and school board first met in February 2020 with the intention of holding quarterly meetings thereafter; however, the pandemic prevented them from meeting again until Thursday.
Members discussed the two bodies’ joint resolution, which seeks to “take cooperative action towards the goals of improving education and economic opportunities” within the schools and city.
“It’s going to take a tremendous effort and energy,” Councilman Canneth Lee said. “But if we can commit to what this says, our young people and our city will be totally transformed.”
Members said that transformation could involve coordinating youth services, improving neighborhoods and housing and developing economic opportunities by partnering with local businesses and universities.
Kyla Henderson, a 2020 graduate of Washington High School, said those changes are needed. During the public comment portion of the meeting, she said the current system isn’t working for the city’s youth.
“The reason I personally wanted to leave for college and never come back to the city is because there’s nothing here for me,” Henderson said “As far as jobs, they’re here — but the city’s not.”
Henderson said she attended charter and private schools before returning to Washington to graduate, where she “was in a class of seniors who were reading at elementary school levels.”
Now, as a local tutor, she said she sees the same thing in the South Bend students she helps.
“Our system is broken, and our kids that I’m tutoring — whether it’s elementary, middle or high –– are products of that,” Henderson said.
After the resolution passes both the school board and common council, it will create a joint committee made up of members from both bodies. That committee will make proposals and recommendations for action to city and school leaders.
The committee was originally set to include 10 members, but leaders at the meeting unanimously agreed to add two youth representatives from South Bend schools.
Other suggested changes to the resolution centered on language around racial equity –– the resolution says school and city leaders “must strive for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice to establish a learning system that provides equitable opportunities and outcomes” for all students.
School board member Oletha Jones said that passage needs to include specific strategies and actions to work toward racial justice, especially with recent national conversations about banning racial education in the classroom.
“With our current dynamic that’s going on where we have a conservative movement to shut down the conversation in schools on anti-racism, we’re going to have to have backup,” Jones said. “So I think it is imperative that the community as a whole gets behind this conversation.”
The bill authors – Councilman Troy Warner and school board member Ruth Warren – will now revise the resolution to include members’ suggestions. The resolution will have to pass both the common council and school board separately to take effect.
After the joint committee is formed, members agreed to meet twice a year as full bodies.
“We’re not here just to plan for tomorrow, we’re here to plan for the future,” Council President Karen White said. “We have to make sure that, as we have these conversations, that we look at them as an opportunity for growth and development.”
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