Before Richmond County school Superintendent Frank Roberson addressed his congregation Friday morning, he acknowledged the obvious question hanging over the room.
Yes, he is asking church leaders to join with the school system to raise the achievement of young, black males. Yes, he invited pastors and deacons to sit beside teachers and principals in his board room Friday to talk strategy.
But the intention is not to ignore the separation of church and state, he said. It is to encourage churches to provide the spiritual piece for students, to shake up the dead-beat dads and inspire apathetic families the way schools cannot – because they have an access point the schools do not.
“That is the purpose of the church and the schools to do stuff together on purpose to help our children become productive young people and grow into results-orientated adults,” Roberson said. “We owe them that.”
Roberson and his cabinet members invited church leaders, educators and parents to the central office Friday to talk about ways churches can help raise achievement of black males, a segment that performs disproportionately worse on academic standards. Mirroring national trends, black students in Richmond County perform behind their peers in most subjects and grade levels on standardized tests.
With church being an integral part of the African-American family, Roberson suggested ways they can fill a void in the school life. He encouraged pastors to develop student recognition programs, where churches award certificates for students who show the greatest improvement or greatest achievement.
He asked church leaders to visit students from their congregations during the school day and recognize their families for positive efforts.
Byron and Sandra Robinson, youth pastors at Faith Outreach Christian Life Center in Hephzibah, said their parish has computers students can use to complete class work, and church leaders speak regularly with the teachers and principals in their congregation.
But the recognition piece is something they plan to develop to get rid of apathetic attitudes.
“We want to eliminate the excuses,” he said. “Even in poverty you can check on your kids’ school work. ... A lot of the kids, they come to church and they have an opportunity where we can speak freely with them, and that’s the missing link.”
Cheryl Jones, the assistant superintendent of elementary education, showed the roughly 35 church leaders how to use the district’s online portal that allows parents to monitor their child’s grades, schedule and attendance.
“This will prevent those surprises when progress reports go home or when report cards go home, and by the time you get to April and May you know what you can expect your child to do,” she said.
The group also heard about resources at the Performance Learning Center, which provides alternative education for students who can’t attend traditional school because of a pregnancy, a need to work or other special circumstances.
Darlene Price, the director of the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, talked about study tools families can use online or at the library for free.
Kam Kyzer, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the CSRA, stressed how community outreach can be the difference between an employed, high school graduate and a drop-out in the prison system.
“No computer and no curriculum out of a box will make a difference in a child’s life like a caring adult will,” Kyzer said.
While going over test scores with the group, Roberson urged church leaders to sign up for school-based improvement teams that will provide academic help and encouragement. Just as pastors push church members to spread the Word after they leave their pews, Roberson asked the church leaders to take these strategies and put them to work in the schools.
“It’s good to preach Jesus on Sunday morning when you have a captive audience,” he said. “But we also have to go into the communities and the neighborhoods and help those unproductive places be productive. ... We’re not going to have it said they came, they met and nothing happened. We’re going to put legs and feet to what we’re doing today.”