This purpose of the Valley Central Community and School-Based Racial Equity in Education Committee to better understand and respond to the issues of racism that exist in society and at Valley Central. We empathize with the community and condemn hatred, injustice, and destruction at all levels.
Valley Central wants all children in our care to feel safe, valued and above all heard. As a district, we must all be committed to identifying and resolving racial differences in the experiences, education, and well-being of our students. Together, the school and the family must lead the change that will create lasting equity for all people in our community. We must support efforts that will give all of us the tools we need to combat racism, oppression, and hateful acts in all forms. Our staff and administrators continue to be trained in culturally responsive teaching in order for all of us to better understand and work with all of our children, especially our children of color.
Every student in the Valley Central School District needs to know that they are valued, respected, and loved.
Where We Have Been
In January 2018, the New York State Board of Regents directed the Office of P-12 Education and Higher Education to convene a panel of experts, engage with stakeholders, and develop from the ground up a framework for culturally responsive-sustaining education. A guidance document was drafted and presented to educators in 2019 based on this work, however it is not yet a regulation. The guidance document stated that in order for a district to be considered a school system that is culturally responsive, they must create:
- Students who experience academic success
- Students who are socio-politically conscious and socio-culturally responsive
- Students who have a critical lens through which they challenge inequitable systems of access, power, and privilege.
Culturally responsive-sustaining (CR-S) education is grounded in a cultural view of learning and human development in which multiple expressions of diversity (e.g., race, social class, gender, language, nationality, religion, ability) are recognized and regarded as assets for teaching and learning. There are four principles that must be present to consider oneself a culturally responsive school district
- A welcoming and affirming environment
- High expectations and rigorous instruction
- Inclusive curriculum and assessment
- Ongoing professional learning
Social and Emotional Learning Initiative as Part of Cultural Responsiveness
It is also important to remember that prior to the guidance on culturally responsive teaching, Valley Central had devoted time and resources to implementing the mandate surrounding New York State’s Social and Emotional Learning initiative. Valley Central did the following to address the social and emotional wellness requirement, some of which assists in becoming more culturally responsive:
- In 2017-2018 we implemented the Life as Sport Program by Dr. Fenner for K-12. This program was utilized to enhance motivation, set productive goals, sharpen routines, manage stress, and clarify thought processes–and apply them to real-world situations.
- In 2018-2019 we hired a teacher to implement a mental health curriculum in the HS that was written by a team of teachers.
- In 2018 the Middle School became a Safe School Ambassadors school
- In 2019-2020 we began training on the Yale RULER model for grades K-12 so we would have a common language and common methods to deal with social and emotional learning. We had a three-year implementation plan for this program; however, the pandemic has forced us to modify our plans.
Prior to this, the District had participated in the following:
- Anti-bullying programs at the elementary level.
- Walden has implemented a Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program. This program includes resources on cultural responsiveness.
- Responsible Social Media student and parent presentations have taken place throughout the years.
- Student Assistance Counselors are available in all buildings to assist students in working through social and emotional issues as well as to oversee all DASA complaints.
Culturally Responsive Education at Valley Central
When the NYSED Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework came out in 2018 surrounding culturally responsive teaching, Valley Central understood the importance of implementing this guidance and although we were not mandated to implement any initiatives at the time, we hired Dr. Gesso LeBlanc as a consultant for Culturally Inclusive Education. Valley Central wanted to be proactive and knew we would need guidance to implement the framework to the best of our ability.
Dr. Gess LeBlanc is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs within Hunter College’s School of Education. Dr. LeBlanc is a developmental psychologist who has researched how children’s experiences at home, in their classrooms, and within the communities influence their learning and engagement in school. He has written several educational articles and has been recognized by the Spencer Foundation and the American Psychological Association for his work and contribution to the educational field. Dr. LeBlanc began his work with us in the Valley Central Middle School. His initial steps included talking to administrators, teachers, students and families to develop an understanding of our school’s culture and how best to support a culturally responsive environment. Dr. LeBlanc taught us that a culturally responsive classroom includes the following: high academic and behavioral expectations, positive student-teacher relationships, healthy school and community ties, research-based teaching methods and student-focused lessons. During the 2019-2020 school year, the pandemic cut Dr. LeBlanc’s work with the students’ short, however he continued to work with teachers and over the summer he provided professional development to all members of the administration. This professional development included the following:
- A Framework for Racial Equity
- Fostering Belonging and Engagement
- Strategic Plan for Hiring Teachers of Color
The Valley Central School District has extended their commitment to this work and during the 2020-2021 school year, Dr. LeBlanc will be working with the High School as well as the Middle School. During this year’s conference days in September, Dr. LeBlanc presented to the entire High School staff and worked with smaller groups to get necessary feedback. This year he is focusing on increasing student focus groups in order to hear directly from the students.
Prior to our involvement with Dr. LeBlanc Valley Central had implemented other strategies to address cultural inclusiveness. They include the following:
- Cultural Diversity Club at the High School
- Creation of the Race, Identity and Justice Course at the High School
- Mirrors and Windows Professional Development: The phrase “mirrors and windows” was initially introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED Project. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that
- offers you a view into someone else’s experience. It is critical to understand that students cannot truly learn about themselves unless they learn about others as well. A respected VC Elementary teacher, Robin McMillan presented this Professional Development to all elementary schools as well as the High School.
- Selection and procurement of racially inclusive literature for all elementary schools.
Where We Are Going
We are aware there are some residents who believe that Valley Central is not doing enough to address the issues surrounding race and culture that exist at Valley Central. We strongly disagree with that view. It is my hope that the Board of Education and the residents of this community will have confidence that the Valley Central School District has been, and continues to be, committed to creating a culture of diversity and tolerance. We agree that more can and must be done. Valley Central remains committed to ensuring ongoing improvement in the area of cultural and racial responsiveness.
Racial Equity in Education Committee Ad Hoc Committee is Formed
After the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25th and the public outcry that resulted, it became obvious to the Valley Central School District that more must be done to ensure the Valley Central School District was dealing with racism head on. The District was met with a great deal of anger surrounding racist social media posts that surfaced. Dr. LeBlanc suggested we meet with 10 members of the black community to hear their concerns, which we did. This led to the ad hoc committee, which was created on June 4th. The committee met almost weekly over the summer and was composed of students, parents and staff, as well as a liaison from the Board. Below is a summary of the goals of this committee and where we currently stand in relation to each goal.
Create a Mission Statement
- A subcommittee of the Racial Equity Committee met and created a mission statement in July. The entire committee was provided with the opportunity to comment and suggest edits. The mission statement was shared with the Board of Education in the summer and reads as follows:
Who Are We Focused On: Students
What is the Role of the Learning Leadership Community (School – Teachers, Administration, Support Staff, etc.) in the Development of Our Students? As a learning community, we are charged with our ongoing professional development while creating and proactively advocating for an educational atmosphere of excellence, enrichment and inclusion to develop students who will become citizens of the world capable of creating a better future and leading fulfilling lives.
What is Our Goal? As such, this committee is dedicated to driving accountability for our school’s goals with respect to the fair treatment of all students by influencing an agenda that promotes an inclusive and comprehensive curriculum, transparency and fairness in processes that affect students and proactively creating an atmosphere that is inclusive and focuses on the development of all students regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or ability.
How Will We Do This? To address systematic issues around diversity and inclusion in our educational system, this committee will drive towards identifying transformative solutions that will build awareness, develop cultural proficiency, and hold all stakeholders accountable in their practices of proactively advocating for an inclusive environment free from discrimination and create ongoing processes that will help to build trust and transparency among the Valley Central Community.
Modify the Dress Code and the Code of Conduct
- In summer 2020, the Board of Education voted on revisions to the Dress Code and the Code of Conduct. Students will now be able to wear headscarves, as well as head wraps and hats. Students will not be able to wear anything that displays the Confederate flag. The Code of Conduct was revised to ensure that racist or provocative dress, actions and speech would not be tolerated.
Provide Professional Development to All Stakeholders
- As already stated, Dr. LeBlanc provided training to all VCAA members. In addition, all Board members and Central Office administrators received Racial Literacy Training. This training gave administrators the opportunity to read narratives from Valley Central students of color expressing their feelings about their experiences here in Valley Central. We are in the planning process to determine the best way to train all teachers. Under the current conditions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get substitutes. Training will be done at faculty meetings, and other District meetings, and will be provided after school. Zelig Kurland will spearhead the effort to provide training to all stakeholders. He will also work individually with teachers to assist them with cultural responsive instruction. Dr. LeBlanc will be in the District several times a month working directly with students, teachers and administrators. This will be an ongoing effort.
Evaluate the Climate of the District in Terms of Racism
- A subcommittee created climate surveys to distribute to students, parents, teachers and administrators. We had planned to send those surveys out in September 2020, however, Dr. LeBlanc, our consultant, expressed concerns about the wording and feel of the surveys and intends to meet with this subcommittee to offer suggestions for changes before sending out.
Add to Our Collection of Literature to Make it More Diverse and Representative of All Cultures
- This has been an ongoing process that began several years ago. The elementary school Literacy Consultants continue to do an excellent job of ensuring we build our library of culturally diverse literature and that it is used throughout all of the content areas as part of our curriculum. This summer a collection was purchased focusing on women of color. We understand the importance for all children to engage in reading and discussing literature where the main characters are people of color. We will continue to add culturally diverse literature to all our libraries across the district. I will be meeting with librarians shortly to discuss a process for choosing appropriate and diverse literature, whether they be hard copies or eBooks.
Evaluate the Curriculum to Ensure it is Representative of All Cultures
- The district is committed to assessing bias in standards and curricular materials.
- This process will take place within one of the subcommittees. It is an involved process that must be systematic. There are several tools available to assist in this process and the subcommittee will choose the tool.
- Academic content standards and curricular materials often frames the histories and experiences of White Americans as a monolithic and universal experience (GLEC, 2016). The perspectives, histories, and contributions of non-White, non-male, non-dis/abled people are generally minimalized, misrepresented or often omitted altogether (GLEC, 2016). While this may occur as an effect of teacher positionality, it is also rooted in content standards and curricular materials that are not ideologically neutral but steeped in experiences of dominant cultures (Sleeter, 2005). At a time when teachers are often obligated to teach directly from standardized curricula and district adopted textbooks, it is imperative that curricular materials and content standards reflect the diverse backgrounds, histories, and narratives of all students in schools. The subcommittee will determine a process for ensuring this happens.
Improve Recruiting and Hiring Practices in Order to Increase the Number of People of Color Employed at Valley Central
Dr. LeBlanc provided training to the Building Administration and District Directors on this topic. We will ask that he provide the same training to Central Office. Some of Dr. LeBlanc’s suggestions are as follows:
- Connect the need to hire more teachers of color with the school’s mission
- Make the case that hiring people of color is good for students and staff
- Outline strategic issues related to hiring more teachers of color for the coming year(s)
- Establish hiring guidelines that reinforce focus on hiring diverse candidates
- Make ads inclusive
- Consider timing of ads and hiring. Moving up the hiring cycle can yield more candidates of color.
- Rethink the hiring process so that it includes a focus on recruitment.
- Why would a person of color want to teach here?
- What unique opportunities does the school or district provide?
- How can we make our school more attractive to diverse candidates?
- Rethink our teacher induction process
- Professional learning (with a focus on collaborative relationships)
- Create lanes and guardrails that simultaneously highlight and protect
Analyze Data to Determine if Disciplinary Measures are Fair to All Students
This summer (2020), two years of data on suspensions was provided to the committee. There is much more data that needs to be looked at and analyzed. One of the subcommittees will focus on looking at both elementary and secondary DASA/VADIR and other data to determine if students of color are disciplined disproportionally to Caucasian students. Once the data is collected and analyzed, recommendations will be made.
Provide a Method for Racism Complaints to be Made
- DASA forms are posted on all school webpages on our website. Valley Central has stood committed to address all incidents of hate speech and actions, within the confines we are allowed, while protecting the rights of all of our students. Every school has an appointed DASA officer. The DASA officers are appointed annually and information is posted on the District website, published in the District Viking Guide/Calendar, and listed on the “About” page of each school webpage. Any student parent or staff member can file a complaint by contacting a DASA officer or administrator.
- Students and parents are informed of how to make a DASA complaint. We will investigate ways in which to ensure that ALL students and parents are informed of the process.
- We have to recognize that an investigation does not always yield the response a complainant wants to hear. We will think about asking—what resolution would you like to see as a question on our complaint intake forms.
- The District only has jurisdiction to investigate and discipline students or teachers for matters that have a nexus to the school or could cause a substantial disturbance. We will ask for further training from legal counsel on DASA and determining whether there is a nexus to the school.
- We will investigate ways the District can alter its DASA process consistent with the law to make it better.
Provide Avenues for Student Voice in Each School – Establish Set Opportunities for Students to Share and Feel Safe
- Dr. LeBlanc will be leading an increased number of focus groups with students. We will use his findings to determine the best was in which to accomplish this goal.
Create a System to Ensure Students of Color are Fairly Represented in Honors Courses/Athletics/Scholarships
- A subcommittee will also focus on this goal. Before the pandemic, the Middle School was discussing allowing all students to opt into honors courses. More discussion on this topic needs to take place.
Move from Ad Hoc Committee to District Equity Team
Dr. LeBlanc has attended several meetings of the Racial Equity in Education ad hoc committee and with Marianne Serratore and is providing guidance on transforming this ad hoc committee and has offered advice for creating a standing District Equity Team. Subcommittees will be formed which will address the items in the action plan. Co-chairpersons will lead each subcommittee. With subcommittees, we will be able to address action plan items in a timelier manner.
The District Equity Committee will be made up of representatives from each building; however, each building will also have a committee. VCHS Teacher and Ad Hoc Committee member, Zelig Kurland, will serve as the facilitator of the District Equity Team and is currently researching the way these committees are run in other districts. Parents and community members will be able to apply for subcommittee positions. Mr. Kurland is working closely with Dr. LeBlanc and we hope to have a process in place sometime in November.
Dr. LeBlanc has cautioned from doing too much during the reopening, as teachers and parents are overwhelmed. Dr. LeBlanc has stressed that reopening buildings safely and working to keep them open is the best thing we can be doing for all students. Dr. LeBlanc will attend the last meeting of the Racial Equity in Education Committee, in order to provide them with information on the direction the District will move in.
It is hoped that the District Equity Team will include numerous stakeholders, as we cannot be successful without the input and contributions of parents, students and members of the Valley Central community.