BY PAT LITOWITZ PLITOWITZ@NCNEWSONLINE.COM
Success as a high school athlete is meaningless if excellence on the field is not mirrored in the classroom. "If we, as parents and educators, do not raise the bar, as far as education is concerned, then we are literally contributing to the negative activity that goes on in the streets of New Castle," Pastor David M. Young Sr. said Thursday. Young and six members of the city's black community met with school district administrators and board members to devise a strategy that promotes learning as a necessity and not an option. "All of the kids need our help," resident Sam Holmes said. "We're not coming together for the minority. We're coming together for the majority." This remarkable meeting had its genesis during a contentious school board meeting in mid-June. To show its displeasure over the hiring of a new administrative assistant to the superintendent, backers of junior high principal Jacqueline M. Respress spoke in her favor. Respress was one of four candidates for the position, which eventually went to Terence Meehan. One of the issues that arose involved the treatment of black athletes. Critics complained that they were being exploited for their talents, but not encouraged to succeed an education. Instead of summarily dismissing the charges, board President Fred Mozzocio and Superintendent George Gabriel arranged a meeting of the district's athletic committee and the black community to examine the issues. Thursday's gathering was the second session to explore the problems and to propose solutions. "This is the first time I've seen a group of men come to me and say, 'We want to help.'" Gabriel said. While the group's initial focus is specific -- student-athletes -- it's goal is to offer guidance and support to all district students. "We do offer after-school tutoring programs," Gabriel said, "One of our biggest problems is getting students to attend." Using state standardized testing as a guide, the district's black students historically score lower than their white counterparts. Last year's tests, which were recently released, show white students receiving higher scores in the advanced and proficient categories of math and reading for grades three, four, five, six, seven, eight and 11. Black third-graders at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center fared better in math and reading proficiency tests than white students in the same school. State athletic guidelines offer little incentive for students to perform well in class. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association says a student-athlete must pass four classes in order to particpate in a given sport. "We have to let these kids know we're serious about educating them," Young said. When the group next meets, it will decide on a name for the organization, propose a mission statement, work on a board resolution that will recognize the group as a part of the school district and develop a referral process. "It has to happen on the grass-roots level," resident Lawrence Brewton said. "No doubt."