A coalition of Baltimore County community groups met Tuesday in Randallstown to brainstorm ways to help Black students succeed and hold school leaders accountable if they fail.

The inaugural Baltimore County Education Justice Table meeting at Union Bethel AME Church focused on equity for Black students. The group consists of members from the Randallstown NAACP, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (also known as TABCO), the Baltimore County NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, Bridge Maryland Incorporated, and St. Francis Episcopal Parish and Community Center.

The group aims to improve and protect public education and ensure justice and accountability. Its focus includes advocating for an equitable school budget and expanding community schools that provide support services to students and their families.

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Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP, said the group has been in the works for at least a year. He reached out to TABCO with the idea and the two groups expanded to include other organizations in the community.

Coleman said the new organization is really about helping Black students academically.

“When it comes down to it, African American children are the ones taking this on the head,” he said in an interview. “This is about them.”

The chapter president sent a letter to the school board and superintendent earlier this month, demanding the system admit the top 10% of eighth grade students of color into its top magnet programs. In his letter, he cited a school system report that showed Black students were being outscored by their peers.

Coleman also sees the new group advocating for more Black school board members, which would better reflect the student population, and for ways to hold school officials accountable. But it doesn’t mean the group is pitted against school leaders, he said.

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“People tend to think accountability is a bad word. It’s not,” Coleman said. “People think the Randallstown NAACP is at odds with the school system. We’re not.”

But the school system’s budget is over $2 billion and student achievement is not improving, he noted. The system needs another group to work with and something to ignite them — and that’s what the Education Justice Table can be, Coleman said.

“What everybody needs to understand is the goal is to do what’s best for our students,” Cindy Sexton, president of TABCO, said before the meeting. “It’s not in opposition to anything the school system is doing. It’s really about ... working with the community.”

She said the National Education Association encouraged educators to work with community partners to help advance what’s best for students. The school system has an equity committee, but Sexton said it’s school-based without much community input.

Deputy Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough was in attendance, along with the school system’s Chief of Staff Mildred Charley-Greene. Yarbrough said the goals of the Education Justice Table and the school system are aligned.

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“To hear that there’s a group of different stakeholders coming together to champion that cause, that was definitely very exciting to us,” she said.

Yarbrough said what resonated with her was the interest in community schools. The school system, she said, has an “aggressive plan” to advance the cause. She wants to partner with the group to make sure the expansion meets every community’s needs.

Tekemia Dorsey, with Baltimore County’s League of Women Voters and the Randallstown NAACP, brought up community schools. She called them “the backbone of our education system.”

Community schools are public schools that provide services and support that fits each neighborhood’s needs with students who may have difficulty learning. That can include “free healthy meals, health care, tutoring, mental health counseling and other tailored services before, during and after school,” according to the NEA.

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Dorsey was standing with Halee and BJ Simons, the president and vice president of the Randallstown NAACP Youth Council. Dorsey said the students are often left out of the conversation, which and needs to change.

Halee Simmons, 16, said she saw this meeting as a way to get more students involved in the community.

“I’m not really seeing much of youth leaders, like myself, who I can relate to,” she said. “Having a meeting like this is something where I can really expand myself, really reach to a broader audience.”

Two newly elected school board members were present: Robin Harvey and Jane Lichter. Harvey said it was wonderful that there were so many people who wanted to focus on the students and work together.

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“There may be a wide range of views on how we get to the finish line, but everyone here is willing to work together to do that and that’s what I appreciate,” she said.

Lichter said she was inspired by the number of different community members present. Dorsey’s comment about student voices was a big deal to her.

“It’s another example of where we have to make sure we’re using students and their voice to find a solution to the issues,” she said.

The Education Justice Table will have monthly meetings, Coleman said, and hold listening tours to get input from the community.

kristen.griffith@thebaltimorebanner.com