• 75°

Oxford aldermen asked to keep an open mind in school board appointments

Attorney Walter Zinn asked the Oxford Board of Aldermen Tuesday to appoint Oxford School District board members who understand the importance of finding a solution to the district’s large achievement gap between white and black students.

Zinn was hired by a group of local African-American parents to represent them after the Oxford School District came under fire in September for researching the idea of an opt-in school for students who receive free and reduced lunches.

Recent data shows a large achievement gap, about 47 percent, between the district’s economically advantaged and disadvantaged students and a 51 percent gap between white and black students.

The Oxford School Board of Trustees apologized to the community and Zinn said there has since been an open dialogue between the district and the parents he represents.

“No one wants to make everything a race issue, but in this case, it is,” Zinn said. “The school board does not reflect the student body.”

Zinn asked the aldermen to be particularly mindful of the achievement gap when appointing school board members in the future.

“It doesn’t have to be about choosing someone who looks a certain way,” he said. “But someone who understands this particular population is suffering. These kids have no say in what their parents do.”

Zinn mentioned other recently released data that shows black students having received more disciplinary actions than white students.

“Do we just say all these are just bad kids?” Zinn asked. “Or are we missing something? Are we asking what’s going on at home? What’s going on in their lives? Do we understand their needs?”

The Board of Trustees is currently made up of four white trustees and one black trustee. Three of the seats are selected by the Board of Aldermen and two are voted on by Oxford citizens.

Mayor Pat Patterson told Zinn the board and himself recognize there’s a problem.

“We know there’s a real issue there,” Patterson said. “We’d like for you to come back in the early spring and tell us how the conversations with the district are going.”

Patterson said other than appointing some of the school board members, the city has little control on what the school district does.

Alderman Janice Antonow said the Board of Aldermen is planning to meet with the OSD Board of Trustees in the near future.

“We tried to meet before the controversy, but it fell apart,” she said. “But we’re going to do it and talk about all these things and how we (the aldermen) can help.”