Elgin-area school officials say they will work harder toward closing the achievement gap for black male students.

Officials at the state's second-largest school district acknowledged they are failing more than 1,200 black male students in the classroom at a weekend symposium highlighting the academic challenges and obstacles those students face. The Brother 2 Brother symposium focused on how different the educational experience is for 6 percent of students in Elgin Area School District U-46 schools who are black.

School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis thanked the administration Monday night for being bold enough "to acknowledge that we are gravely missing the mark when it comes to meeting the needs of black male students."

Ellis added that U-46 CEO Tony Sanders has committed to addressing the issue, and she vowed to hold the administration accountable.

According to John Heiderscheidt, the district's director of safety and culture, black male students are disciplined at least twice as much as male students of any other race in the district. Those students also receive longer out-of-school suspensions than their white peers.

Though out-of-school suspensions fell 83 percent from about 7,000 during the 2007-08 school year to about 1,200 in the most recent year, black male students are still overrepresented, Heiderscheidt said during the weekend discussion.

"It was very informative and moving," Sanders said.

Ellis called the disciplinary data on black male students disturbing.

"This is important because we talk a lot about closing achievement gaps," she said. "We cannot close the achievement gap until we close the discipline gap, because we cannot educate students who aren't in our classrooms."

About 76 percent of U-46's black male students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. They also represent more of the district's special education and homeless student populations than any other group. Just 4 percent of black male students are identified as gifted students or take Advanced Placement courses.

Ellis supports hiring more black teachers -- currently roughly 2 percent of the district's teaching staff -- and more teachers of color for general education classrooms.

"It's good for all students to see a diversity of teachers in their classrooms," she said. "But particularly, if we are serious about addressing black male student achievement, that is a critical component that they see people who look like them."

She also called for ensuring the district's teachers and curriculum are culturally competent, and creating a plan for meeting these goals.

"This falls in line with our strategic plan and our equity policy," Ellis said. "There is a lifetime cost to not doing this work because if we are failing to properly educate any segment of our children, including our black male students, that correlates to lower graduation rates, which has a significant lifetime impact on our communities and on our economies."