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An Inner-City School Where Attendance Pays – Literally

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By Rebecca S. Rivas, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

How does an inner-city principal get her elementary students and their families to commit to attendance and good behavior?

An incentive of $300 is a good start, as Principal Natalie Means of Jefferson Elementary, in St. Louis, discovered.

In the fall, Jefferson Elementary offered 25 newly enrolled students $300, if they achieved 95 percent attendance, were not suspended, and their guardians attended three out of four Parent Teacher Organization meetings by the end of the fall semester.

The families also had to live in one of the surrounding rental areas - Residences at Murphy Park, O'Fallon Place, and Carr Square neighborhood - all developed by McCormack Baron Salazar company. Its partnering management company, McCormack Baron Ragan, funded the incentive program through an overseeing nonprofit group, Urban Strategies Inc.

Nearly 80 percent of the 25 students made the grade.

Means compared a group of non-participating students to the students working towards the incentive. Non-participating students missed an average of 2.8 days this semester, while students in the program missed an average of 1.5 days. Nearly half of the students enrolled in the program - 42 percent - nailed a perfect attendance record, compared to 25 percent of non-participating students.

National studies confirm that this type of incentive program works. However, with consistent state budget cuts, incentives are far from most principals' minds.

For Jefferson Elementary, McCormack Baron Salazar has kept a close watch on its progress for many years.

In 1998, McCormack Baron Salazar built Residences at Murphy Park, which neighbors the school. Soon after, Richard Baron, chairman and CEO of the McCormack Baron companies, raised about $4 million to revamp the school to entice neighborhood residents to enroll their children in it.

Since then, the company has supported the school in various activities by working with Urban Strategies, Inc. to implement them. This year, Kate Casas, project manager for the group, met with Means about her goals for the school year and what would help her to achieve them. Means told Casas that she wanted to focus on enrollment, attendance, and behavior.

Last year, Jefferson became an art-focused pilot school, or a school that runs autonomously within the St. Louis Public School District. Despite marketing and neighborhood canvassing, Means did not reach her enrollment goals in 2009, she said.

Casas found a 2010 study conducted by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr., which found that paying students for reading books, good behavior, and attendance had significant results, particularly with minority populations.

However, paying kids for test scores and grades did not produce results. Fryer conducted experiments in four urban school settings: Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. In all, 18,000 students in more than 250 urban schools participated in his trials.

Even if the program at Jefferson didn't produce results in all students, it left them with a valuable lesson.

This semester, three African-American children from one family entered in the program. The two younger siblings succeeded, but the sixth-grade boy did not. The family had just moved from Mississippi, where they enjoyed a more rural lifestyle. A few weeks into the school year, Everest Wright, 13, got into a fight and was suspended.

"I was having a little bit of an off day," Wright said. "Someone said something to me, and I flipped out."

When he got home, he instantly realized the severity of his actions. But, it really hit him at Christmas time.

"I saw my momma take my brother and sister to the store and pick out their presents, and I thought, ‘That could have been me,'" he said. "A lesson did come out of that. Before I start fighting, I try to think about it first. Is it worth it?"

His sister, third-grader Diamond Lofton, bought a Nintendo system, a new coat and several clothes with her money. Wright had to put his present on layaway.

Every other week, Casas and two Washington University students would mail home letters to the families to inform them about their status of succeeding. With some families, a letter was all it took. But, for others, they made home visits to offer any assistance and resources to help the guardians and students achieve their goals.

The process increased the trust level that parents had for the school, Means said, particularly for families who had negative experiences with their previous schools.

"We were all positively impacted by this," Means said. "I think a barrier was broken. They saw us as partners and not someone that was invading their space and looking for problems to go report. I would love to do it again."

Last month, Urban Strategies president Sandra Moore and Baron congratulated the families who completed the program at the school.

Urban Strategies plans on offering the incentives again with a goal of 125 children next time.

Smiley Convenes Dialogue on America's Future

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Public Broadcasting Service personality Tavis Smiley is on a mission to help America hold on to its legacy as a global leader.

After suffering through two costly wars, a faltering economy, failing public education, and continued job losses, Americans are worried about the country’s ability to hold on to its greatness, according to Smiley.

To zero in on these and other problems, Smiley recently brought his nationally-televised town hall meeting format to the nation’s capital with a group of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial panelists to ponder America’s future.

The conversation, which was held at George Washington University, was broadcast by C-SPAN on several occasions. The event followed Smiley’s lauded series of “State of the Black Union” presentations.

Prior to the event, Smiley told the AFRO that the dialogue—which brought together Democrats and Republicans—was about efforts to put the country back on the right track.

Citing a recent poll in which more than half of the Americans interviewed said they felt America’s better days are behind it, Smiley said, “it’s all just unacceptable.”

Smiley added that, as far as he knows there are no Black people who are better off today than they were two years ago, and said President Obama’s stimulus package should have been much larger.

“When he controlled the House and the Senate, he didn’t get a bigger package and he should have fought for that,” Smiley said of the president. However, stimulus funding from Washington has mostly been dished out to states when it should have gone straight to the cities to help alleviate poverty-in urban communities, according to Smiley.

As for the state of Black America, Smiley said. “This is our last chance to get it right…and if we can’t count on Barack Obama to help us get it, we’re in trouble.”

Economic Punishment Vote May Determine 2012 Campaign

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By Tom Risen, NNPA Correspondent –

Frustration with the economy is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s main explanation for Republican losses in 2008 and his prediction for 2012, as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Pawlenty is currently on a multi-city media blitz for his book “Courage To Stand”, which outlines the loss of “strong-back jobs” that do not require college degrees as key to voter decision making in 2012, during his appearance in the nation’s capital at the National Press Club (NPC).

Pawlenty had been considered as the running mate for Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008. However, he does not believe the result would have been different had he been chosen instead of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. “After the economy cratered in 2008, I think whoever the running mate had been was going to lose,” Pawlenty told the crowd. “And, I think we’re going to see more of that this time around.”

Pawlenty appealed to “restore American common sense” by not increasing government spending, which he feared could increase taxes and damage businesses. In his book, Pawlenty contended an increase in the “socialist” spending mentality under President Barak Obama’s Administration -- expansion of federal programs such as health care --could lead America to the same high unemployment and budget troubles now faced by European economies. “Just because we followed Greece into democracy doesn’t mean we need to follow them into bankruptcy,” said Pawlenty. “As government pushes in, industrialism, responsibility, accountability, family, neighborhood, and so on, get pushed out.”

Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Il) is also expecting more “punishment politics” in response to the economy in 2012. Davis, who is running for Chicago mayor, considers himself “a fiscal conservative” and attributed the Democratic Party’s recent loss of the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama to Republican Mark Kirk as a prime example of such backlash against incumbent Democrats. Davis cited unemployment as the defining complaint among Black voters and expressed understanding of why Republicans are wary of budget increases.

“Although I agree that in reality meeting people’s needs doesn’t mean wasting resources, a lot of the government spending on education and welfare that I may call ‘investments’ others would call ‘giveaways,’” Davis said. “There are some issues in Black life that relate to moral standards, but the bigger issues seem to be “get a job” ensure there are opportunities to get to college or experience a certain economic state of well-being with the rest of society.”

NPC President Alan Bjerga called the timing of Pawlenty’s book tour, immediately following his term as governor, “a path to presidential nomination.” President Obama also released a book prior to his bid for the presidency as did Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan – all of whom announced their candidacies at the NPC.

In a hint of what might come with a Pawlenty presidential campaign, the Minnesota Republican said the conservative message against government spending coming from political movements, like the Tea Party, could provide a solid message for the conservative movement “for years to come.”

While Pawlenty placed great importance on education and gave high praise in his speech to Michelle Rhee for “speaking truth to power” as chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, he also cautioned against increasing federal role in education, welfare, and public housing. Pawlenty declined to detail how he would appeal to both spendthrift Republicans and Black voters.

“I don’t want to focus on identity politics,” Pawlenty said. “I want to look at every aspect of the different social programs and do what’s right for the country.”

Scott Sisters Free at Last

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By Ben Wrobel –

Last week, Jaime and Gladys Scott walked out of prison 16 years after they first entered. Their double-life sentences were criticized as indicative of the egregious sentencing in our criminal justice system, and their release by Governor Haley Barbour was hailed as a long-overdue victory for justice, as well as an example of a governor using his commutation powers to right a wrong.

“I have no doubt that the reason the governor let them out is that this is a grave injustice,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who advocated strongly on the sisters’ behalf. “We need more days like this in Mississippi. We need more days like this in this country.”

The sisters’ release marks the end of a grassroots campaign led by a coalition of concerned individuals and groups, including the sisters’ family Evelyn Rasco and Nancy Lockhart, their attorney Chokwe Lumumba, the national NAACP, the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and other organizations. Supporters from around the country brought attention to the sisters’ imprisonment and petitioned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for their freedom.

“This is a result of all of the individuals across this state and across the country who saw injustice in what was taking place and gave voice to it,” stated Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. “This is a great day to let us know that if we stick together, work together, we can make mighty things happen.”

Jamie and Gladys were each condemned as teenagers for a first-time offense in which no one was hurt and court records maintain that little more than $10 was stolen. The sisters were convicted of luring two men to be robbed by three teenage boys. The boys each received eight years and served less than three.

The sisters’ case has become increasingly tragic and urgent over the years. While in prison, Jamie lost use of both her kidneys.

“They have served more time than they should have served," Lumumba said.

After leaving prison, the sisters returned to Pensacola, Florida, where their mother and children live. Jamie has three children, ages 23, 20 and 17, and two grandchildren, ages five and three. Gladys has two children, ages 22 and 15 and two grandchildren, ages seven and four.

Jealous said that the NAACP will continue to ensure that the sisters receive the best medical care available, and Lumumba said that he would help the sisters seek a full pardon.

“Our next step is to ensure that the sisters get the health care that they need, and ultimately, the full pardon they deserve,” stated Jealous.

According to Jealous, the sisters’ release speaks to the urgent need for the work the NAACP and their allies are doing to encourage governors to use their clemency powers to advance justice. He says that for more than a century the NAACP has pushed governors and presidents publicly and privately to use their clemency powers to advance justice.

“The case of the Scott sisters gives hope to others who are unjustly imprisoned,” stated Jealous.

“During the past few weeks, two governors released black Americans who had been railroaded by our nation's criminal justice system. One week before the Scott sisters were released, New York Governor David Paterson commuted the sentence of John White, a man who was defending his family. We hope that this trend continues in other cases, such as the case of John McNeil, a Georgia man who was given a life sentence for defending his home.”

Republicans Strip D.C.'s Voice and Vote in House Action

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

One of the first orders of business for the Republican-controlled House was to strip D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of her limited voice on the floor of the House.

Shortly after the chamber convened Jan. 5, 2011,Republican leaders of the 112th Congress withdrew Norton’s right to vote when the House is convened in what is known as the Committee of the Whole, when the chamber assumes the form of a massive committee to consider legislation or other issues.

The measure was part of an opening day rules package that stripped Norton, Dels. Donna Christiansen (D-Virgin Islands), Eni Faleomavaega (D–American Samoa), Madeleine Bordallo (D–Guam) and Gregorio C. Sablan (D-Northern Marianas) and Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) of the partial vote granted them in 1993 when Democrats ruled the chamber.

Norton and the other delegates to Congress were allowed to vote in committee but not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes. In 2009, Norton had championed a bill which would have given D.C. a voting representative in the House. The bill passed the Senate but failed to clear the House that year. Norton countered with a measure that would delay stripping of the delegates’ vote until a House commission could study the issue, but the proposal was defeated in a 225-to-188 vote. The delegates still have the right to vote in committees in which they are members.

The action came after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray at a Jan. 4 rally urged lawmakers “to preserve what little democracy we have.” Norton also attended the rally, which was organized by D.C. Vote, an advocacy group centered around acquiring a voting representative for the nation’s capital.

Gray added later that the decision to rescind Norton’s partial voting rights was "the most outrageous insult imaginable.” Shortly after the GOP’s vote, Norton said she told attendees at the rally not to go quietly into the night now that attacks on their rights had already begun. “Yesterday was day one, showing that residents have no intention of slipping away without protest,” Norton said. “Today I continued on the House floor what our residents, our mayor, and DC Vote began.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, described the GOP’s action as a shameful start to the new year. “It’s about political power and they are determined to deny political power, it seems, to D.C. residents,” Zherka told the AFRO. “Congressional Republican leaders have professed in the last few years to support representation for D.C. residents, but of course their method of achieving representation is often the kinds of things we are pursuing like amending the Constitution,” he added.

Zherka called the GOP’s action ironic, given both newly elected House Speaker John Boehner and his peers profess to support the Constitution, but have argued that the delegate vote is unconstitutional. “When in fact, federal courts have held that the vote is constitutional,” said Zherka. He cautioned that the action to rescind Norton’s voting rights might only be the first effort by the GOP to roll back the gains D.C. residents have made during the past 10 years.

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