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Talking About Race in More Than Whispered Tones

Steve Latz takes full responsibility for a campaign email and describes his views about the underlying issues, calling for full public discussion.

I served as campaign manager for the Payne-Parrish and Swanson for Board of Education Campaign and the Amy Higer for School Board campaign.

On the afternoon of April 12, Lisa Davis, campaign co-chair for the Payne-Parrish and Swanson campaign, sent an email to 19 friends, urging them to vote in the upcoming April 17 BOE elections. Her email was drafted with my full knowledge, assistance and encouragement.

In particular, I suggested she mention the statement made by Dr. Rusty Reeves during the “Public Speaks” portion of the March 5 Board of Education meeting. No one else in the campaign, including the three candidates and Amy’s husband Michael Paris, had any prior knowledge of Lisa’s email, nor were they given the opportunity to review it. They have since indicated they would have refused approval had they been afforded the opportunity to do so.

I take sole responsibility for the email. I regret any adverse impact it may have had on their campaign, but I reject the notion that anything in the email is libelous and would point out it was sent to a list of Lisa's friends, not circulated publicly. If that is violation of ethical campaign practice, then I would urge both campaigns to produce ALL emails circulated on their behalf, by campaign leaders and others closely associated with each campaign. I am in receipt of many generated by both sides. It would, in my view, make a very interesting discussion. And one might further include in that discussion all of the posts on MOL, many of which, in contrast to Lisa’s email, have no basis in fact.

In her email (), Lisa voiced support for candidates Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer and noted that a key issue in this election was the Board's March 5 decision to proceed with the Superintendent's middle school and high school transformation proposals. She went on to note that Jennifer had voted in favor of those proposals and that Wayne had voted against. She described the leveling system as it has existed as unfair and went on to say that "Some of the most vocal supporters of the Eastman slate believe that Black kids can’t excel because of Black culture." She then provided the public link to a statement made by Reeves at the March 5 meeting. In my view it is a serious issue when someone implies – as Reeves did – that district efforts to address achievement issues are doomed to fail because the students in question are incapable of high achievement.

Nowhere in her email did she suggest that anyone go to the CCR Forum and confront Eastman/Pai/Bennett. Had that been her intention, or mine, we would have made a point to have her send the email to a broader audience and do so more than a few hours before the CCR forum began.

As events transpired, someone (multiple people according to the CCR) posed that question to the candidates on the index cards provided for members of the audience to ask questions. I did not ask the question myself at that time nor did I organize anyone else to do so. It is unfortunate that it was asked. Had I wanted to pose the question at that point, I would have done so and identified myself as the questioner. I am not embarassed by the question. I raised it with John Davenport several nights before. What seems doubly unfortunate to me is the fact that there is more uproar over the supposed impropriety of the question than there is over the Reeves statement itself.

For today, I have the following to say, which represents only my viewpoint and not that of the candidates or Lisa Davis:

I have repeatedly voiced serious concern about Dr. Reeves' March 5 public comments, which he supported in part by citing his professional credentials. I urge everyone to watch the video of his comments and draw their own conclusion. What does that have to do with the campaign of Eastman, Bennett and Pai? Are they guilty by association?  Absolutely not. But there are troubling, unresolved issues nonetheless. Here’s what I think:

(1) The comments were made at a public meeting and by law are a part of the official public record. Discussion of them is entirely appropriate, in the context of the campaign and otherwise, because they bear directly on what approach we take as a community to address achievement issues in our schools.

(2) I am not disputing Reeves’ right to make his March 5 comments, nor his right to make the statement at a prior Public Speaks some months ago that he "didn't sign up to pay reparations to black people" when he moved here.

(3) In my view, the comments would be reprehensible and hurtful even if they were at some level correct; that they are profoundly wrong makes them doubly so.

(4) Dr. Reeves was — as Lisa's email's correctly states – a "prominent supporter" of the Eastman/Pai/Bennett campaign. What makes him a prominent supporter? His name is on their endorsement ad; he was active in public distribution of their literature; he was featured in a photograph taken at their launch party and posted on their website (but which was taken down after the uproar began); and, at the time he made this statement, had already scheduled his March 18 coffee, which Eastman, Pai and Bennett all subsequently attended. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Mary Mann, editor of Patch, felt compelled to independently verify that the coffee actually took place, since she was unable to do so by speaking over the last several days to one or more people in the Eastman/Pai/Bennett campaign.

(5) In an Op Ed posted on Patch last night, only after the polls closed, Wayne Eastman rightly rejected Reeves' assertions.

(6) As prospective elected leaders of the community, especially ones who enjoyed Dr. Reeves' substantial public support, one might have hoped that Eastman/Pai/Bennett would have seen fit in the time available beween March 5 and April 17 to reject Reeves’ support or at a minimum, dissociate themselves from these specific views. They were all in the room when he made his statement. They were all aware that he made it.

Sometime in the next week, as time permits, I intend to draft a longer statement about why Reeves’ assertions are so wrong on so many levels. I believe it is important that we talk about these issues in more than whispered tones. Does that mean I think most people who supported Eastman, Pai and Bennett (or even the candidates themselves) share those views or are "racist"? No. But I do think that many people might entertain the validity of at least some of what he said, and that's why it needs discussion — and in my view — rejection by an informed public, if we are to move forward with the range of measures necessary to overcome the problem of underachievement for which so many children, especially black children, are at risk. I believe that most people in the community – however they voted on April 17 – share the desire for the school district to succeed in those efforts.

— Steve Latz is a 23-year resident of the community, a former nine-year Board of Education member, and the proud father of two CHS graduates.

Kalani Thielen April 20, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Ms. Kazenel, Fair enough. You bring up good points, and I apologize if I came across as speaking for the community on the subject of leveling in math. I completely agree with you that it's reasonable to expect kids to get exposure to algebra by 8th grade (I myself was fortunate enough to take algebra in 7th grade). Moreover, I agree absolutely with your final statement, that we need to ensure the highest quality and accessibility possible for our math students (and of course, for all of our students). I have always considered math/science to be natural delevelers as subjects. Aside from some notational baggage, Calculus takes no sides in culture wars and doesn't care a lick what you look like. You've given me a few new angles to consider in this position, and I will take some time considering them before I come back to discuss this issue. Regards.
Kalani Thielen April 20, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Ms. King, My complaint is with the way that Mr. Reeves comments have been distorted to win political advantage. I object to this manner of conducting political campaigns. I don't blame any political actor for shying away from this fight, it is a minefield and I'm probably excluding myself from a life in politics by stepping into it. :) On the subject of Mr. Reeves's qualifications, you're absolutely right to say that it doesn't make him an educational expert. However, he did say that his experience was in working with prisoners and troubled adolescents (I assume that he linked the two because he sees that some troubled adolescents grow up to become troubled adults when their problems are left untreated). This experience may give him a skewed view of a subset of kids who are having trouble (for example, the child who quietly struggles with reading assignments, concluding that he "can't read well" but who otherwise never runs afoul of the law, probably doesn't make it into Mr. Reeves's field of vision). Has Mr. Reeves identified a large untreated problem that has handicapped the education of some kids in M/SO? Maybe, maybe not ... as you say, I'm not really in a position to say one way or the other (I've had a limited experience with our schools). However, I do know that he didn't say anything like that these kids "can't succeed" or any of the other distortions that have been applied to what he said. I am trying to stick up for rational debate here.
STEPHANIE VOLIN April 20, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Mr. Thielen, I'm sure most will agree there's a huge difference between a child struggling with math and a "troubled youth." If Mr. Reeves has had any studies published on whatever links exist between his work and our students, I'd love to read them. If not, they are his theories, his opinions, his conjecture. And since he put these thoughts "out there" at a BOE meeting, they are open to public discussion.
Kalani Thielen April 20, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Ms. Volin, I myself agree that there's a huge difference between a kid struggling with math and a troubled youth (that's why I brought up Mr. Reeves's possibly skewed perspective in my previous comment). I agree with your that Mr. Reeves's identification of the main problems facing some of our kids may be incorrect. I also agree that when you put out public comments at BOE meetings or public debates (as I myself have done, though thankfully not on this subject -- I'm actually completely agnostic on the question of deleveling), then you should expect that people will talk about them (presumably that's the reason that you make the public comments in the first place). However, what is not acceptable to my mind is the distortion of comments made on issues that are obviously sensitive -- especially a distortion that inflames people in furtherance of political objectives. Now that this issue has become so toxic and so racialized, because of that misrepresentation and the subsequent messages put out by Mr. Latz, we have a diminished opportunity to help the people we purport to want so desperately to help. Regards.
John Davenport April 21, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Steve, that was not an apology. And you quoted another remark of Reeves's out of context. The joke about "reparations" was in response to the superintendent's claim that we owe and educational "debt," as if a past fraud or misappropriation was awaiting compensation. I went back & checked. I hope you will desist from attacking Reeves. However, a depersonalized analysis from you explaining how youn understand the causes of the achievement gap would be helpful to all. I would welcome it and probably learn from it; I remain earnestly interested in this topic. While I'm not expert, my own sense is that there are multiple causes. One could certainly be overly low expectations in some cases: it has always stuck in my mind that a teacher told Malcome X as a high schooler that he could not get a professional job. That sort of thing is very damaging; I've personal experience in this area. However, I think this is not common at all in our district; our teachers work overtime to encourage struggling students. In any case, when you write your analysis, I encourage you to address the statistically grounded formula the NYC uses to project likely student achievement without any extra effort or intervention or initiative on the part of the schools. And I would ask that you also include some explanation of the well documented white - Asian achievement gap, and the gender gaps. It might also be good to address why several almost entirely African American districts near us retain levels.

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