The first steps in implementing the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Family Community Engagement Program, a grant-funded effort to increase the positive outcomes for young men of color, have been announced by Lockport City School District officials.

Holly Dickinson, grant writer for the district and program director of the MBK initiative, said the district is forming a nine-person advisory council to steer how the grant’s expectations would be met and the council would include members of the public.

In July, the district was accused of keeping the existence of the MBK grant secret from the Black community and using the money that was earmarked for its children for its own purposes.

More criticisms of the district's initial handling of the grant followed when it came to light that the district hired Buffalo-based vendors despite the existence of community mentorship programs in Lockport.

However, a mid August visit from Anael Alston, an assistant commissioner of the New York State Education Department, seemed to soothe the concerns of parents, teachers and community members and get the implementation of the $500,000 grant back on track. Alston met with both district trustees and community members over a two-day period and promised to send a letter to district officials dictating NYSED's expectations for successful implementation of the grant.

According to Dickinson, Alston’s letter arrived and it helped fill in some of the blanks on how to proceed.

“There were two main points from that letter. One was the need to move forward with creating a My Brother’s Keeper Family Community Engagement Program Advisory Council to act as a steering committee,” Dickinson said. “And the other main point was the importance of gathering data that’s reflective of the experiences and outcomes of our boys and young men of color enrolled in Lockport school district.”

The advisory council will include Dickinson, Mayor Michelle Roman, a district teacher, a district administrator, a district trustee, a student, a parent, a business owner and a religious leader.

Dickinson said the teacher and administrator would be found through their unions and the trustee appointment would be announced by school board president Karen Young. The student will be selected from Lockport High School or Lockport High School West by the administrative teams in each building and would be a young man of color, probably an upperclassman.

The remaining three spots – parent, business owner and religious leader – will be filled through a lottery of applicants in which the interested parties will give their name, contact information and reason why they’d like to be a part of the council, Dickinson said.

“I think people are really excited. I’ve gotten a lot of responses of people who are interested in participating on the council and in other decision making capacities as well, which is terrific,” she said. “From what I can tell I think we’re in a very good place right now.”

Once formed, the council will hold its first organizational meeting on Sept. 30.

“Its job is essentially to review the grant, the grant budget, our goals, our timeline, understand the intent of the MBK FCEP program, to look at our district data particularly relevant to boys and young men of color,” Dickinson said. “For example, what does the data look like for ELA and math proficiency, graduation rate, college acceptance rate, things of that nature.”

In October the council will meet with different vendors or consultants that could implement the grant, some of whom have already drawn ire from the community for not being from Lockport.

“We think it’s an opportunity for people on the council to get to meet those mentioned in the grant,” Dickinson said. “If there’s any reason that there’s a determination by the council that they’re not best suited, or they think there’s a better option, we’ll pursue those options, as well.”

The advisory council will continue to meet throughout the four years that the program is grant-funded.

“We want to do it right, not necessarily fast,” Dickinson said. “Fast is great if we’re also doing it correctly.”

Those interested in serving on the council should visit https://www.lockportschools.org/Page/10302.

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