With the first weeks of the new school year behind us, I can't help but pause to reflect upon the many accomplishments that have been achieved throughout the Antioch Unified School District these past several years. As gratifying as it is to celebrate those accomplishments, there can be no rest until success is realized for every one of our students.

When our District's student achievement data is examined as an aggregate whole, one group of students appears to be most at risk, our African-American male students.

It is sobering to look at this data and, more importantly, to take ownership of the reality that we, as an educational system, are failing to fully address the academic and behavioral needs of African-American male students. While this problem is not unique to Antioch, it does not absolve us as an educational system, and just as importantly, as a community from taking all necessary steps to eradicate the inequity. We must, together, commit to providing more in the way of educational opportunity for our African- American male students.

By doing so, it does not mean that we abdicate responsibility for other students by giving them less, thus creating another problem. It does mean that we, as a school system and a community of caring and compassionate citizens, face this issue head on and make our community of African-American male students a focal point and priority. This is the just and equitable action to take.

This past summer, I had an opportunity to attend a workshop at Stanford University devoted to the issue of student equity. I was deeply moved by one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Yvette Jackson. Dr. Jackson recently wrote, "The Pedagogy of Confidence: Inspiring High Intellectual Performance in Urban Schools." Dr. Jackson's body of research focuses on helping teachers truly believe in the intellectual potential of their students -- specifically African-American students. Her research points to the fact that by identifying student strengths and providing enriching learning options, those strengths surface and are leading to higher levels of achievement.

It also highlights the importance of good first teaching, targeted intervention, and student and adult relationships.

African-Americans continue to be challenged by inequities in educational opportunities. Years of oppressive policies and marginalization have impacted their learning such that they are disproportionately referred to special education and for discipline, and not identified for gifted and talented programs and Advanced Placement courses. This issue is exacerbated for our African- American males and drastic alteration is needed to reverse this debilitating trend which has severe consequences for our community and society as a whole.

I ask for the support of all who have influence on the destinies of our students -- teachers, principals, district administrators, parents, local government and community leaders, to join me and our Board of Education in taking a leadership role in addressing this challenge.

Working together and speaking with a bold voice and a clear purpose, we can close the gap between our African-American males' potential and their academic and social achievement. By providing targeted and focused attention toward our African- American male students we seize the opportunity to create a better Antioch.

In the very near future, District staff will be meeting with key stakeholders to refine and enact policies, develop systemic programs, and allocate resources to ensure that African-American male students are successful in our education system. We will work to over-identify African-American males for gifted and talented programs and to identify only those African-American males for special education who truly meet the criteria. We will target African-American males for Advanced Placement courses and science, technology and engineering programs (STEM) so that they are prepared to take on jobs that exist in our region. Furthermore, we will work on further instituting restorative justice practices so that, whenever possible, African-American males are not suspended for discretionary reasons such as perceived "defiance," which may have its roots in racial bias. 

We will institute equity walks at all of our schools to ensure that quality teaching -- the No. 1 predictor of student success -- is occurring in all of our classrooms. And finally, we pledge to work with our parents and community so that we live up to the ideal of being our brother's keeper -- within the school walls and at large.

We need fresh thinking to help create environmental, psychological, and educational conditions that will support and encourage all of our students, with a special focus on those who grow up in poverty and who face discrimination. Supporting those who need it most, supports us all as individuals and as a community.

In the words of Albert Einstein: "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

Dr. Donald Gill is superintendent of Antioch Unified School District.