By Reverend Sam Casey (Founder and Executive Director, COPE)
“Be strong and courageous.”
The counsel comes from Joshua 1:9, one of my favorite Bible verses, and is also a piece of advice I often give members of my congregation to encourage them to be bold in the face of fear, uncertainty and opportunity.
As I look ahead to this new year, I find myself reflecting on this very verse. While there are many uncertainties in the year ahead — possibly even some fears — I am fired up about the opportunity we have in San Bernardino to be strong and courageous advocates for our children’s education.
Over the next few months, California will finalize a new state plan to align its K-12 education system with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the bipartisan federal education law that will replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But unlike NCLB, ESSA provides communities like San Bernardino and its stakeholders — our parents, teachers, school board members and education leaders — the opportunity to provide input on the new law and have our voices heard on what our students need to be successful. Our voice matters now.
And we know that far too many of our students here in San Bernardino County aren’t getting a quality education; only 38 percent of students are on grade level in English Language Arts; in math, only 28 percent. Our children deserve better than a school system that doesn’t put them on track for success after high school, if they even make it to graduation.
You don’t have to be a policy expert to know our kids deserve better, and as the founder and executive director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), I strongly believe that ESSA will help our ongoing work to inform, engage and, most importantly, empower parents in our community to be advocates for our students and our schools.
At COPE, we believe that the success of San Bernardino’s kids is critical to the health of our community. We have been at the forefront of the push for the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF); for positive school climate through discipline reform; for rigorous Common Core standards and Linked Learning instructional approaches that prepare students for the 21st century; and now for strong community participation in the implementation of ESSA.
We’ve already seen that our collective electoral power can help pass important legislation for our students — like Proposition 55, that continues to restore education funding in California, and Proposition 58, that puts language immersion programs back into our districts.
Now, it’s our responsibility to ensure that California’s new state education plan works for all of our students. For the principles of equity at the heart of the nation’s new education law to remain front and center here in San Bernardino and our neighboring communities, the demand must be loud and clear for our schools and districts to be held responsible for providing our students and teachers with the supports and resources needed to reach their potential.
Recently, leaders from COPE joined several statewide allies to provide testimony before the California state Board of Education on our state’s ESSA plan. Over the coming months, COPE will continue to work with our community partners to provide feedback on how ESSA should be implemented to best serve students in our community, as well as helping community members become informed activists on this important new law.
At various times in our lives, we are called on to be strong and courageous. This is one of those times. ESSA is our chance for everyone to lend a hand to making sure that all of our students on a path to success in the next grade level, and beyond high school. Let’s not squander this opportunity.
Reverend Sam Casey is the founder and executive director of COPE.