The voice of California’s charter school movement

Black History Month: Overcoming Challenges for Black Students in California

By Ana Tintocalis

How do California public schools overcome systemic barriers and challenges so that Black students get a high-quality, equitable education?

That’s the question a panel of thought leaders in San Diego tackled in a recorded panel discussion as part of CCSA’s Serving Black Students With Excellence series that honors Black History Month.

Two of the thought leaders who participated head charter schools in San Diego: Dr. Helen V. Griffith is the Executive Director of The Preuss School UC San Diego, and Dr. Cheryl James-Ward is CEO/Chief Engagement and Innovation Officer at e3 Civic High School. Nicole Jones, Dean of Counseling Services at Cuyamaca College, also offered her viewpoints from a post-secondary level.

The panel discussion is a production the University of California Television (UCTV) in association with CCSA.

In the half-hour conversation, a broad range of topics were covered that demonstrate how charter schools are leading the way in closing opportunity gaps for Black students, and that there are many lessons to be learned and shared from the success of their students.

You can tune into the entire discussion here:

For a breakdown of topics and poignant comments, keep on reading:


“Some people [in schools] say, ‘I’ve done work around cultural proficiency. We’ve had courageous conversations.’ But do you continue to have courageous conversations? That work never stops.” – Dr. Carolyn James-Ward

“We have to own our responsibility for making sure … we don’t let biases creep into our thoughts, our thinking, and our judgements. We need to see our students as people, as complex people, who come from a vast variety of backgrounds.” – Nicole Jones


“We, as educators, need to do more to create what’s called ‘windows and mirrors.’ We need our scholars to see themselves in the mirror, and we need them to see others outside of the window.” – Dr. Helen V. Griffith

“In order for students to be true critical thinkers, they have to have opportunities to analyze information from multiple perspectives and to have some real conversations. The curriculum needs to shift.” – Dr. Cheryl James-Ward


"These resources are needed. What we find is racism and bias brings trauma … when [educators] peel that onion, they often find students struggle because they’ve been with someone who probably didn’t have a high expectation, or didn’t treat them equally, or pre-judged them in a way that was painful.” – Dr. Helen V. Griffith


“We’ve heard there is a shortage of people. But really, I think it’s the marketing effort. We need to market where the people are that we are looking for. We have to be very purposeful in seeking diversity and support those individuals when they come on board.” – Dr. Cheryl James-Ward

“Hire people in groups and in community. Have them make connections early on and support the work that they’re doing through professional development, and ongoing training to keep them.” -– Nicole Jones

Check back to the CharterNation Blog this Monday when we feature Sacramento High School as part of CCSA’s Serving Black Students With Excellence series in observance of Black History Month.