Organizers Prepare For Education Summit

May 10, 2017

Joe Webster flanked by Rita Taylor
Credit Nick Evans

Later this month Tallahassee will host the second annual Black Brains Matter Too summit.  Organizers are emphasizing the relationship of education and health. 

The summit, Brown v. Poverty, Prejudice and Politics, will bring together local officials, researchers and stakeholders.  Joe Webster of the Institute For African American Health is one of the organizers.

“We’re now 63 years after Brown and the question is what did Brown do, and has Brown really solved ‘the problem’ that we thought we were addressing in education,” Webster says, “and where are we today in this country and particularly in the state of Florida.”

Webster is a doctor, and he says the question of education is vital for minority communities because it spills over into so many aspect of a child’s life.

“If you do not finish high school, you can take 9.2 years off your life,” Webster claims.  “So education can be likened to vaccination so if there was a virus causing poverty, we could challenge CDC to find a cure for that virus.”

While exact mortality figures differ from study to study, multiple researchers make the connection between educational achievement and long-term health.  

The summit also aims to address education measures recently approved by Florida Legislature.  On the final day of session, state lawmakers approved a sweeping educational spending package putting millions of dollars into teacher bonuses and turnaround program called Schools of Hope.  Originally envisioned as a charter school initiative, lawmakers decided to give traditional public schools a chance to submit proposals for improving performance as well. 

But summit organizer Rita Taylor remains skeptical of charter turnaround efforts.

“They have no interest in our children, they have interest in profit,” Taylor says.  “If they put the same funding in public school that they’re putting in charter schools our public schools would perform.”

And Bishop Anthony Webster—Joe’s brother and leader of St. Agape Orthodox Church believes parental engagement is key.

“What we have seen so far in terms of some of the alternative educational programs they are heavily metric driven, but the parental community partnerships have been lacking,” Webster says.

Meanwhile Jefferson County recently signed a five year deal with the charter Somerset Academy to bring its schools up to par.  Jefferson’s schools underperformed for a decade before the move.