In September, Garfield High School celebrated their re-opening as a new modernized school focused on the needs of its students.
Even as a grand re-opening of a historical community institution is celebrated, the recent NAACP Education Conference highlighted the continuing gaps and inequality that exist throughout the educational system for minority students.
"The community has welcomed us back with open arms," said Garfield Principal Ted Howard. "Garfield is not just a school, it is a fixture."
Garfield's remodel included a brand new music hall named in honor of superstar former student Quincy Jones, who returns next week with an extravaganza to unveil the facility.
Improvements also include wider hallways, a new performing arts school and an emphasis on providing the students with the tools they need.
"The biggest difference [with the remodel] is having the latest technology," said Howard. "It's like having a cassette player and then coming back with an Ipod."
The City of Seattle initially delayed remodeling the school. This delay included a city initiative to preserve their auditorium as an historic site, which would have prevented a remodel of a school more than 80 years old. However, the remodel was agreed upon and completed for the 2008-09 school year.
Garfield High School's re-opening celebration is concluding with a concert featuring Quincy Jones on Friday, Sept. 26. The school will also be hosting mini class reunions over the weekend and had its official ribbon cutting ceremony earlier in the month.
"Its a wonderful tribute to Quincy Jones as a legend and alumni," said Rev. Phyllis Beaumonte, State Education Chair for the NAACP.
Garfield High School has long served as a symbol for many in Seattle. According to the Celebrate Garfield Website, the school "has long played a key role in its neighborhood, and as what is now known as the Central District has changed, so has the school's population."
Howard sees the Quincy Jones concert as an opportunity to come full circle regarding the legacy and promise of the school.
The facility has served as a magnet school for the school district's Accelerated Progress Program. Observers say that while the advance and accelerated programs gave Garfield High School gave its school a good reputation, this emphasis also has had its drawbacks.
"It creates a top floor, bottom floor school," said Beaumonte. "It's an unfortunate situation in which the average kids are left to pick at what is left over."
However, Principal Howard sees the new school as helping to bridge the gap between the higher level students and those who are not in advanced placement.
"Some call it two schools, we call it one school," said Howard. "We are able to teach any student and move them forward."
Despite the reopening of Garfield High School, Howard still sees education gaps among his own students.
"Anywhere between 400 and 600 students are reading below grade school level," said Howard.
The NAACP's Education Conference met to discuss educational gaps such as these as well as opportunities for African-American students in its region, which includes Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
One the resolutions agreed to at the NAACP conference is to encourage all of their chapters across to adopt a "Back To School, Stay in School" program. This program is part of a national effort with the goal of boosting student success by targeting the absenteeism and dropout rate; providing a higher level of academic and cultural enrichment; increasing parental involvement and improving overall perceptions about public schools.
"We want to create an action plan to develop ways to make difference and impact these issues," said Beaumonte.
As part of this action plan, the NAACP conference highlighted the continuing disparity in dropout rates among African American and minority students as compared to Whites.
The latest statistics, according to Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, found that the annual dropout rate for Black students was 10.3 percent statewide for 2005-2006, an increase of 3 percent from the year prior. In Seattle, the on-time graduation rate was 33.7 percent for Black students compared with 51.5 percent for White students.
Another key finding in the conference was in how cultural differences can affect a student's ability to succeed in school. Without proper attention to these differences, school districts often lose an opportunity to properly educate students.
Beaumonte mentioned that to address this issue, it must be studied properly, a project that the NAACP is making progress to fund. She also says that the NAACP is developing ways to impact the gaps not only in education, but also in standardized test scores.
"It's the same persistent issues that we've had over the years," said Beaumonte. "Racial disparity in education continues to be a major issue."