New leaders to address Black students’ ‘achievement gap’
Much of the news coming out of the Lower Merion School District lately has been about racially-tinged court fights, battles over special education and redistricting that usually leave a nasty taste in the mouths of those involved.
But earlier this month the LMSD came together and made history when it elected to serve on its school board — for the first time in its history, a pair of African Americans — Rev. Virginia Pollard and Dr. Robin Vann Lynch.
Both Pollard and Van Lynch will serve four-year terms. Pollard was appointed on an interim basis in Sept. 2010 when Linda Doucette-Ashman resigned.
“While we generally do not comment on election results, we certainly recognize and appreciate the significance of this milestone,” said LMSD spokesman Doug Young. “We look forward to working with our new and returning board members and wish them the very best in their service.”
Pollard, the wife of Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore Pastor James Pollard, has been a resident there since her husband took the church in 1970.
An associate minister at the church working on a graduate degree at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Pollard is ecstatic to be serving alongside her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister.
“It’s indescribable,” Pollard, who has raised three children in the LMSD, said. “We have made history. Never before in the history of Lower Merion have we had two African Americans serving at the same time on the board. This is great.”
While Pollard has been in the district for years, Vann Lynch, an adjunct professor at Drexel — with a Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership — has been living with her husband and their three children in Lower Merion for the last six years.
“I bridge the gap between the old and the new,” Pollard explained. “I know people who have been living here and raising their children here for years. Robin brings that expertise. She specializes in teaching teachers how to teach. Together, we’ll address all the issues of the children in the district. We want to look at everything that is happening to all students, whether it is in classes where they are challenged or gifted, we want to make sure that the children are getting the very best from the school district.
The LMSD has had a bumpy history with African-American students, particularly in the area of special education. A recent suit against the district alleging that Lower Merion teachers intentionally assigned African-American students to special education classes at a disproportionate rate was recently thrown out.
The suit maintained that African-Americans, just 8 percent of the school district, made up more than 14 percent of the students in special education. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have not said whether or not they will appeal the ruling.
While acknowledging that her role is to advocate for all children in the 6,700-seat district, Van Lynch talks directly about closing the achievement gap between African Americans and whites.
“There are lots of students that are getting caught in the achievement gap,” Vann Lynch said. “For me, it’s important that we start asking the right questions. We need to find out why African-American students are over-represented in special education classes and underrepresented in the advanced and honors classes.”
Needless to say, African-Americans in Lower Merion are optimistic and hopeful both Pollard and Vann Lynch in place.
Loraine Carter is president of Concerned Black Parents, a mostly African-American group of parents that advocates for better educational opportunities for minority students in the LMSD.
“There are an awful lot of things going on in this community about race,” Carter said. “With two African Americans on the board, we’re setting a precedent. But this is definitely a step in the right direction as far as addressing some of the issues that African Americans have had for years. They are not a cure-all, but they are definitely a step in the right direction.