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Meet Oakland’s new director for African American male achievement

Chris ChatmonLast night, Superintendent Tony Smith announced he had chosen Chris Chatmon, of 100 Black Men, for a new role in the Oakland public school system: executive director for African American male achievement, a position funded by private donors.

It will be Chatmon’s task to change the trajectory of the city’s black boys.

Let’s take the Class of 2008, the most recent data available from the California Department of Education. In the fall of 2004, 956 African-American boys entered the ninth grade. Four years later, 377 black boys graduated. Of those, 89 graduated with the grades and credits required to attend a state university.

It’s far from an exact estimate, as kids surely came and went from OUSD throughout those four years. But if you look at the raw numbers, it works out to fewer than 1 in 10 ninth graders leaving the district with UC/CSU requirements, and only about 4 in 10 graduating with their class.

But Chatmon won’t be dealing strictly with academic outcomes. The night before his appointment, Oakland lost another black teenager: 17-year-old Raymen Justice, who had just transferred from Oakland High School to LIFE Academy.

Chatmon said the boy’s death was humbling, a sobering reminder of the work ahead of him. “I thank Tony and the leadership of OUSD to actually have the audacity to put together a plan that addresses the crisis facing black males,” he said.

Chatmon is the husband of LaShawn Route Chatmon, the executive director of the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, where Smith and his wife used to work, and which is soon to become The National Equity Project. Want to learn more about him? Here’s his bio:

Prior to starting his new position as the executive director of African American male achievement,  Chris was the principal of Youth Chance High School in San Francisco for two years. Prior to his position as principal he was the executive director of the Urban Services YMCA in Oakland for 10 years and served as a certified trainer for the YMCA of the USA for the past seven years.

A Bay Area native and recipient of public school education, Chris earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from SFSU, his master’s in teaching from Brown University, and taught history and physical education for over ten years. Presently, Chris is the education committee chair for 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, Inc. and sits on the National Education Committee for 100 Black Men of America.

Chris is a father of three sons, all of whom attend OUSD schools. In his spare time he supports the Panthers Baseball organization that he co-founded 6 years ago, The Man Up Life Skills Conferences, Young, Gifted and Black youth poets, 2nd Annual Carter G. Woodson Black History Competition and is working with the local and national chapters of 100 Black Men to bring the Eagle Academy for Boys to the Bay Area.

What do you hope Chatmon will accomplish, and how do you hope he’ll go about it? We’ll have a more in-depth story about him soon.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    Good luck (really, no snark!)

    I think we need to examine why we won’t address this kind of need nationally, through government.

  • oaklandteacher

    I am so excited to see the work he does along with administrators, teachers, parents and young men.

  • arcoiris

    Institutionalized racism is the reason why the federal government won’t address the issue.

    Go Tony for taking the initiative. It’s long overdue.

    Does anyone know if the program is available to elementary students? I can definitely think of some young brothers who need support.

  • Nextset

    Something just occurred that made me think of this blog and the thread here fits in. Someone I know (mid-20′s) is trying to get a career job with a large employer. He was sent an Email to attend a background interview dressed coat and tie. The interview didn’t go particularly well and he stopped by to vent. Now he tells me.

    Of course he failed to wear coat and tie, he was dressed nicely in dress shirt and pants. He said he didn’t get the Email because he has no computer or Internet Connection although he has an email account and cell phone. He did know of the appointment and I’ll bet the dress code was in the snail mail also. Although the failure to comply with the dress code wasn’t raised – I noticed it when I saw his online material – he had a problem answering required questions about job history and other historical data. His is not a “good historian”. He was apparently told his application was incomplete and given a deadline to resubmit a complete package in order to stay in line for processing. Then there are some other issues.

    I warned him that he is already being found wanting for failing to comply with the dress code – even if they didn’t bother to say much about it at this point. Because there was such an express notice of what was required he can bet that points are being taken away for non-compliance. His answer was he has no coat and tie. My response is that you were expected to beg, borrow or buy one, and to especially read and react to the message of what was expected when you presented yourself for the interview. He failed to notice or watch for the message. I suspect he just ignored it because it didn’t “suit” him. He failed to ask anyone for help complying with the requirement – and resourcefullness is at issue with this career job he’s applying for. As far as dealing with the background investigation – credit history – job and residence history and associations and family history – He has some issues.

    He had called a relative afterwards who told him a complete job history can be obtained from EDD going back apparently forever. Prior to arriving here he’d stopped there and ordered one. Good, but should have been done earlier.

    It is frustating dealing with 20-somethings who were brought up to be so uncompetitive compared to my own generation (or maybe just those from my own public schools). Even the poorest of us were more competitive and disciplined and would not have made these mis-steps and would have asked others for assistance. You should have seen how industrious we were at staying out of Viet-Nam. That is unless we volunteered – many did.

    The point is that because our public school teachers took delight in not being our pals and demanding and getting our full capabilities, my classmates were generally not found wanting when they went after something. And he really wants and needs this career job. I hope he gets it. I think it is do-able but now I’m worried. There will be a lot of candidates.

    I want products of the public schools to be more capable of handling themselves as adults. The black candidates are just a mess. I hear this constantly from my contacts involved in HR. The immigrants and their children do not present with the same deficits. We count on the schools not the parent(s) to bring the proletariat to a decent position on the starting line. This candidate comes from weak family but he is honest and hardworking, doesn’t have a drug/alcohol involvement, and can do well. He can be seen as a match for the job but it’s competitive and you can’t go losing points on the hiring process. I wish he’d not finished public school with the deficits he has in function. And he is too old to change easily, we are talking about engrained ways of thinking (remember the boy scout motto – “be prepared”?) that were not set the way they should have been.

    I learned how to meet expectation and to cover my behind in school. Of course, the Nuns would beat us in grade school otherwise and the public school teachers in high school would flunk us into continuation school if we didn’t literally make the grade. Yes my parents were backing them up too, but if you didn’t meet expectations in my schools you didn’t go there any longer.

    Not anymore.

    As far as “fixing” the black boys – good luck. Once they are ruined by their schools it takes more energy to undo the damage than it ever would have to do it right in the first place. People tend to live up to expectation when they are young. Any signals that they aren’t expected or required to do it right, they don’t bother. Higher math may take brainpower to handle abstract concepts but anybody with an IQ enough to drive a car can learn discipline and deportment very well. And this well paying job not only doesn’t require brainpower & abstract thinking, having it will get you de-selected.

    I worry about many of the people I see. I wish they had grade/high schools like mine. They would survive this Brave New World better.

    Back to the thread. If deportment isn’t fixed, reading well will not save the black boys. Football either.

  • Alicew Spearman

    Chris is an extrodinary person who lives with morales and values. I have know him for many years. If anyone can attempt to help the problems that our young black youth experiences, help them make a change he will, and he has Black male Help too.
    One thing Chris said last night and I say all the time is “We have to have high expectations for our students”
    The question is will the institution be willing to make the changes! Enough said

  • oakie

    More window dressing. How much you want to bet the AA male graduation rate in 5 years is no different than today’s (which is disgraceful).

    What is needed is real reform. Not window dressing.

    Hire Michelle Rhee, I hear she’s looking for a new place to reform, since DC’s voters have chosen to stop her before it gets serious (and they lose a lot of nonperforming teachers).

  • J.R.

    Oakie,
    I don’t think Rhee would come here, we like status quo and not real change. The appearance of change is enough, our leaders believe in not rocking the boat too much and collecting those paychecks,perks and pensions without too much expenditure of effort. Maybe a little web surfing while were at the office, a press release or two, and before you know it time to go home.

  • Nextset

    Michelle Rhee would probably be a good idea for Oakland. She would be motivated to make the move also.

    But JR is right, OUSD has no intention of becoming a real school. They like operating the black failure factories. For one thing, keeping the blacks segregated in failure factories makes it possible to also pacify hispanic and (the few) white students who have no intention of sharing a classroom with a lot of ghetto blacks – which is to be expected. OUSD is all about pacification, of the teachers, of the parents and of the students. OUSD perceives that the blacks don’t want real schools anyway so why bother to give them one. The teachers don’t really want to do combat with the black students so why make them. The state isn’t going to do anything to OUSD when LA Unified is worse than they are.

    So just keep the high salaries and lavish benefits going, especially for administration. If the blacks have a 50% plus drop rate and wind up in prison and unemployable, well, they did it their way. It’s not like OUSD gave them a hard time.

    As far as this position we are talking about in this thread – Chatmon may not realize it but he is part of the pacification scheme and will not be in any position to make a difference to any but a few token students. Buy hey, it is a job with benefits. A PR job not a policy job.

    To really do something about black male performance OUSD needs to have a school that is competitive and exclusive to which black students can aspire to – so bright but poor students can escape going to school with ghetto kids. Maybe OUSD should make a deal with Piedmont High to take 20 of the highest performing black kids by application and OUSD provide transportation. That would do it.

    Of course you’d likely wind up with 20 Ethiopian, Nigerian and Mixed kids at Piedmont and business as usual at OUSD.

    Better bring in Michelle Rhee, designate continuation schools and start raising deportment, attendance and performance standards at the principal OUSD black schools.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I actually have high hopes and expectations for Chatmon. I think a great deal can be accomplished just by shining a light on what’s going on. OUSD has elementary schools that are educating Black boys. Somewhere in middle school, the battle is being lost. That has to change and I bet there is data of EXACTLY where the losing is going on. Attendance, truancy, homework, grades, tests. I bet Chatmon will be able to spot the failures very quickly. The question will be the collective will to do something about it. I don’t expect that from Tony, I expect that from the community to demand it. If they don’t, it will be too comfy to keep the structures and PEOPLE that have allowed it.

  • Alicew Spearman

    I agree with you TheTruthHurts

  • Kim Shipp

    I can’t think of a better person for this position. Chris is a person with great passion and commitment in whatever he does. I wish him the best of luck.

  • harold

    This whole thing is racist and a waste of money. How much does this position pay? We have crowded classrooms that need relief (more Teachers). This will not change anything. The problems begin at home and are systemic.

  • Product of Oakland Public Schools

    Times have not changed much. I went through OUSD schools in the 60′s and 70′s The last good education I received was in 6th grade at Chabot school. I learned nothing in middle school, as the AA students were moving desk, throwing books in the air and drowning out the teacher. What I did learn in middle school was PATIENCE! i wanted to learn, but the teacher was not able to present the material. You would need to be there to understand. I dutifully showed up everyday for middle school, but it was a waste land. It was like a continuation school, just a place to come for 6 hours. My younger sister had the good sense to run away from the middle school every day for a month, until my mother took her out and placed her in a private Catholic school. We are not even Catholic!

    High school was a bit better. I learned to type! I feel like I have been working with a deficit all my life. I actually became a teacher myself, but would never attempt to teach high school math, foreign language or music, as I never took those subjects at my Oakland high school, nor did anyone ask me about my courses.

    I have sacrificed much for my own children to get a quality education, and I knew I would not find it in Oakland, past their elementary education at Chabot School, 40 years later. I have moved out of state, even. Until parents become deeply involved in their children’s lives, deportment, school activities, and become lifelong learners themselves, Oakland will continue to be a hurt child.

  • J.R.

    Notice how he’s grinnin’ in the pic, he’s thinkin’ “livin’ large”!

  • Let’s Get Real

    I hope Mr. Chatman makes it a priority to require self-discipline and accountability on the part of ALL students. Amazing results could be achieved by focusing on this one area. Unfortunately, we have been sidetracked from the path of real reform because it has become so fashionable to blame teachers for public school problems rather than address the issues that plague our students.

  • Rick

    Is this a joke? Does anyone who has worked in OUSD public schools during the the last 40 years believe this will help over 90% of the black student who are failing Algebra in the 10-11 grade?

    Mr. Tony Smith, I supported you at first, however, this is proof that you have no idea what our students need to succeed in the classroom. I expected more from you and that is my falut. More race politics at work at the cost of our children.

  • Jenna

    The statistics given in the article talk about the drop out rate from either the end of 8th grade or the beginning of ninth grade. However, if you look at the enrollment in East and West Oakland ELEMENTARY schools, you will find an unofficial drop out rate in elementary schools of about 20% in some schools.

    In middle school you will find another group of “unofficial” drop outs.

    When the reported figure of 377 out of nearly 956 – the number is actually closer to 377 out of about 1200 students,

    We need to solve the problem of drop outs, but we also need to reduce the birth rate when young black men are not married to the mothers of their children. If we graduate one black man who may even be college ready, who has had four children out of wedlock by age 20, we have a larger problem.

    We need to lead our young men through high school free from parenthood.

  • TheTruthHurts

    To Harold @12 and Rick @16.

    Yes, the problems do begin at home and they are systemic. Yet, we have kids with HORRENDOUS home lives that succeed in school and life. Why is that? Can we replicate it? Scapegoating parents (and kids) is convenient, but it IS NOT the whole story.

    Likewise, appointing Chatmon in itself does nothing. However, I expect some pretty challenging conversation in the next 18 months. Conversation that challenges how resources (quality teachers, supplies, etc.) are provided. Conversation that challenges the ABSOLUTE STALENESS and IRRELEVANCE of much curriculum and teaching methods in some classrooms. Conversation that finally, finally calls out those who believe our kids can’t do it and yet are entrusted with their future – which is CRIMINAL.

    Whether that conversation leads to any change won’t be up to Chatmon, it will be up to us. We will either point to poverty and poor parenting, or we’ll roll up our sleeves and do something about it. Chatmon and Smith need HELP. 40 years of structural nonsense is benefiting someone and I bet they won’t want to see it change.

    It is a shame that despite ever-mounting evidence, many continue to cling to the belief that without more money or better parenting, this is the best we can do. I’d encourage anyone who feels this way to stay far away from urban education because you are the cancer that needs removing.

    That is not to say that more money and better parenting aren’t needed. They are. It is to say, we are no where near our capacity with what we have. The public knows it and is increasingly unwilling to throw good money after bad. Districts nationwide are proving this all the time. Do good-get money. Suck – shut down. That’s what’s happening folks. I don’t like it, but people speaking with their feet and their wallets. Chatmon will be in a good place to call BS on the whole charade.

  • Nextset

    TruthHurts: You really have got it wrong. Chatmon (his job position) is a PR hack – if he says one thing that displeases his bosses he will be called on the carpet and corrected. He will be fired or transferred if he persists in saying or doing anything that displeases administration. He is only there to reassure everyone that all is well. I don’t know him or OUSD administration personally but I certainly do know organizational behavior.

    And another thing. Organizations like OUSD have a habit of deliberately hiring/promoting people they know they can get rid of easily. Especially when blacks are involved. I’ve seen that trick a hundred times – especially when liberals are involved. The last thing they want is a candidate who could ever stand up to them politically.

    So your belief about Mr. Chatmon is just not reasonable. More likely he will be well paid to say only the party line and was selected because they believed he would do so and they can enforce it.

  • Nextset

    Another remark on this situation:

    Why are the posters above even thinking that Mr. Chatmon’s position is a policy making job – that he is actually in a position where he can change or control anything? Do you think the title means anything? Do you think the pay rate confers power? Do you believe in Santa Claus??

    Looking at his biography – is there a single thing about his history that could possibly make someone think I’m not correct in my posting above as to why he was selected? Does he look or feel like Michelle Rhee? Does he have a title of Superintendent of Schools?

    He’s probably the perfect candidate for what he was hired for. Pacification. That is what OUSD is selling.

  • Jenna

    What Mr. Chatmon can we assigned to do is to make sure that African American students get their homework done. He can make sure that if it cannot be done at home because the tools or parent support does not exist that the students can finish their homework after school ON SCHOOL GROUNDS.

    My two sons – in their combined 12 classes today spent over two hours on homework issues during class time (taking away learning time from others) in which the VAST MAJORITY of students were African American who did not turn in homework during the week and were given a second chance on the weekend and still didn’t turn it in.

    All students have a right to learn. All students learning should not be held up for students who choose not to attempt the work. All students deserve to have someone help them with their homework. If parents can’t do it – someone needs to help. BUT WE MUST STOP INTERRUPTING CLASS TIME FOR NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR. As it is, students in Oakland are cheated out of 14 semesters of academic advancement they would get if we had 7 periods a day instead of 6 – let’s stop the nonsense and allow students who are at school to learn to do so.

  • harold

    @TTH – I stand by my statements. I am highly qualified and committed to my daily work as a classroom Teacher. I will not be leaving anytime soon …

  • rumbler

    We need Rhee and Chatmon both. Does Tony push against OEA?

  • Hikaru

    Transforming a problem with so manner factors involved is quite difficult. Especially when the institution has little to no recent history of turning much around. OUSD has existed with countless examples of success stories underneath it’s nose for decades and hasn’t manage to adequately support or expand hardly any of them. The question is not whether C.C. can fix the problem. The question at this point may be, “How many people think it’s a problem that can be fixed?” If he is one of the few, then much more will have to occur than what I think most folks understand.

  • Corigan

    I’ve taught in OUSD for 5 years, and in Harlem, Atlanta, and Hempstead NY for a total of 17 years. Teaching diverse student pops isn’t a cake walk-but isn’t as arduous/ or result in the unsuccessful numbers if the Expectation is there. I’ve seen myriad classrooms, and dozens of teachers/admins/superintendents/ etc – with varying degrees of respect for Expectation begets lower achievement. I’ve seen teachers of all races require little to nothing from kids, and the kids who suffer the most are the ones lowest on the pole. Any attempt to revamp this is admirable, but it does need Money, Parenting, and Expectations. Schools work all over the country despite the population. Well wishes to C.C.; to authentically interested teachers, and the kids of OUSD.