Committee, community call for more diversity among teachers
— One way to address racial issues in Kent County Public Schools is to ensure students of color have teachers and other role models to look up to who share their cultural identity.
The lack of diversity among the district’s teachers and administrators was a focal topic during a meeting of the Social Action Committee at Sumner Hall Dec. 12, continuing a discussion from the previous month’s meeting of the group that dealt with racial issues in schools.
Parents and students spoke Dec. 12 about how important it is to have role models of color in schools, while district administrators discussed the issues they face in recruiting them. Two female students of color, one in eighth grade and one in ninth grade, expressed their disappointment in not having more African-American teachers in schools.
“I’m not taught by any black people,” the eighth-grader said. “I think there should be more black teachers.”
The meeting gave Social Action Committee and community members an opportunity to directly address Superintendent Karen Couch and other top district administrators, including Supervisor of Secondary Education and Student Services Tracey Williams, Kent County High School Principal Nick Keckley and Kent County Middle School Principal Mary Helen Spiri.
Chestertown resident Armond Fletcher spoke about the challenges he faced decades ago starting as a student in a segregated district that transitioned into integrated schools. He said teachers at the time did not know how to educate African-American students in the newly integrated classrooms.
“The only thing that they taught us, and I remember it very well, that I came here on the Mayflower or the slave ship. That was it. That damaged me for a long time,” Fletcher said.
Charles Tilghman, president of the Kent County Chapter of the NAACP, first offered a shout-out to teachers and district staff. Tilghman said when there is a lack of diversity among the teaching staff, though, students of color feel like they have no one to represent them, no one they can talk to.
“That’s just a minor part of the problem, but it is a problem,” Tilghman said.
Couch spoke about the difficulty KCPS and other districts on the Eastern Shore continue to have in diversity recruitment. She said there also is a teacher shortage, with colleges reporting fewer students entering the education course of study.
“We’ve looked at the diversity percentages across the Shore and it’s a problem that faces all of us,” Couch said.
Couch said the district tries to recruit from historically black colleges and universities. She said KCPS
faces competition from western shore districts that can pay teachers more.
The budget also factors into recruitment efforts, Couch said. She said the finances make it challenging to create additional incentives for attracting teachers to the district.
Rock Hall parent Aretha Dorsey said one of the issues with diversity recruitment may be that teachers of color may not know districts like KCPS would hire them. She said some teachers may feel discouraged from applying to KCPS.
“I don’t think they know that Kent County was interested in hiring the black teachers, OK. And that’s what you may need to put out there, is now we are interested,” Dorsey told the KCPS administrators.
Dorsey said the lack of diversity among staff tells struggling students of color that no one like them is good enough to teach. She said if her son sees someone teaching who looks more like him, it will make him feel more pride in who he is.
“I want him to see where he can go, who he can truly be before he ever gets there. Because that makes him want it even more and he’s going to try even harder to be someone,” Dorsey said.
Jennifer Fithian, a teacher at Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown, sees value in bringing high schoolers and college students in as mentors and role models for younger children.
“I know we need to work on di- versity of staff, but I think we could start that, especially with what we already have, and build on those high schoolers and college students in our community that can help us get there. I think that’s a good way to start,” Fithian said.
Social Action Committee member and Bayside HOYAS cofounder Paul Tue said that because there has been a historical lack of diversity, he does not expect the issue to be solved in the near future. He agreed with the idea of having older students serve as mentors. He also suggested more groups be formed in the community for children.
“If the teachers aren’t there, we have to come up with more creative ways (to recruit them), of course. But in the meantime, we’ve got to address these kids now. And there are people in the community who can help address these issues,” Tue said.
Chestertown Councilman-elect David Foster said this was the first time he heard about recruitment issues. He said there are many people in the community with connections that could help.
“You just need to ask. You have to let this group know of those needs,” Foster said.
Sponsored by the Local Management Board, the Social Action Committee meets on the second Tuesday of the month. When the committee met in November, discussion focused on racial tensions in schools, notably at KCMS.
At the Dec. 12 meeting, Tue and Social Action Committee member Barbara Glenn of Eastern Shore Psychological Services spoke about efforts to reach out to children at KCMS and the formation of a group called Students Talking About Race, or STAR. Tue said the STAR group is looking for a venue to host a lock-in as a kick-off event.
There also was discussion about KCPS’ proposed update to its bullying policy, expanding definitions for bullying and bias and outlining efforts to curb them. The policy is expected to be voted on by the Kent County Board of Education next month.
Dorsey asked that administrators ensure the policy is enforced evenly across the board. She said it would be unfair if certain punishments were handed out to students, but not others for similar offenses.
The Social Action Committee is working on the formation of a Multicultural Education Committee. Representatives are being chosen from KCPS, local private schools, parents, the Local Management Board, the Social Action Committee, Washington College and the Bayside HOYAS, among others.
“The MEC is a cross sector table to ensure equitable education for Kent County students,” states the Dec. 12 agenda in defining the purpose of the Multicultural Education Committee.
Local Management Board Director Rosemary Ramsey Granillo, who moderated the meeting, said there was a previous incarnation of the Multicultural Education Committee formed in the late 1990s under state mandate. She said the committee likely fell off when the state no longer required it and no staff member was committed to it.
“So this is really the community coming back together and saying, ‘Yes, this important.’ And I think that is the first sign that we’re in the right direction, that we have the local buy-in,” Granillo said.
Members of the Social Action Committee and the community on Dec. 12 discuss the lack of diversity among the teachers and administrators in Kent County Public Schools. The Social Action Committee meeting was held in Sumner Hall and moderated by Kent County Local Management Board Director Rosemary Ramsey Granillo.
Addressing the Social Action Committee Dec. 12 at Sumner Hall, Chestertown resident Armond Fletcher discusses the importance of diversity among teachers for students in Kent County Public Schools.