Com­mit­tee, com­mu­nity call for more di­ver­sity among teachers

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­

— 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.

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