By JEFF KAROUB , Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) – The W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced Friday it’s giving $51 million to the public schools in its hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan, a five-year infusion aimed at tackling low academic performance that has been linked to longstanding racial inequality and segregation.
The grant from one of the nation’s largest philanthropies named after the breakfast cereal maker ranks among the largest to a single, public K-12 school system. The money will go toward hiring early literacy support staff, offering a free pre-kindergarten summer program, creating a behavior plan with alternatives to student suspensions, launching academies aligned with students’ fields of interest, investing in the arts and athletics and offering recruitment and retention incentives for teachers, among other things.
The large gift comes after a year of planning by school officials and the January release of a study by a New York University-affiliated center that highlights decades of racial disparities in a city of about 50,000 people that’s roughly 70 percent white, 18 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The Kellogg-funded study found that of the more than one-third of Battle Creek Public Schools students who leave the district, most are white and richer than the black, Latino and poorer white students who remain. The remaining students have the lowest access to opportunities to prepare for college and careers. It also found the majority of residents in the Battle Creek area have no college experience, while two-thirds of residents in a neighboring district possess some level of college education.
Battle Creek schools’ Superintendent Kim Carter said she’s determined to solve rather than dwell on the problem of racial inequality.
“We’re not really unpacking the reasons why at this point,” she told The Associated Press. “The focus is developing a system that creates access and opportunity for all of the children that I serve.”
Foundation and school officials say the money isn’t delivered as a prescription from Kellogg. Rather, it’s a product of discussions with administrators, faculty, staff, parents, students and national education specialists. Carter said the district developed the plan but “not having the resources served as a barrier to implementing.”
Carter said Battle Creek schools seek to get students to feel like they are part of their education from the beginning. One significant step, she said, will be increasing the number of specialists to work with students individually or in small groups. The added support staff will be working at all levels on boosting academic skills, as well as emotional, social and mental health.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the grant is among the largest such charitable gifts in the U.S. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s public schools, but most others fall under the $50 million mark or have been distributed over a longer time period.
In recent years, Kellogg has focused on efforts to promote racial equity and has committed $300 million annually to advocate groups to address racial disparities for children of color.
Kellogg Co., founded in 1906, still has its corporate headquarters and principal research and development facilities in Battle Creek along with one of four U.S. cereal-making plants.
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