Report on the Racial Equity Ad Hoc Committee

The following was reported to public at the Board of Education meeting on October 13, 2020 by Assistant Superintendent, Marianne Serratore  on the work of the Racial Equity Committee and the direction in which the District will be moving. 

“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, ” said Marianne Serratore. 

Racial Equity in Education Committee

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 2020  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:

What is the Role of the Learning Leadership Community (School – Teachers, Administration, Support Staff, etc.) in the Development of Our Students? 
Aa 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

This summer 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

All Building administrators and District directors, all Board members and Central Office administrators have received Racial Literacy Training., working with Dr. Gess LeBlanc. 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.  VCHS teacher, 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. Valley Central began working with Dr. LeBlanc on cultural responsiveness training in August 2019 and this continues to 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- 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 District administrators on this topic.  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, 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 pages 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 (not necessarily connected to the complaint section)

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.

Dr. LeBlanc has attended several meetings of the Racial Equity in Education ad hoc committee.  He will be speaking with parents from this group tonight via Zoom meetings.  Dr. LeBlanc met with Marianne Serratore several times already this school year to provide guidance on moving away from this ad hoc committee and has offered advice for creating a standing District Equity Team. 

Under the new plan, subcommittees will be formed which will address the items in the action plan outline above.  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.  Zelig Kurland, a Valley Central High Shcool Teacher will serve as the facilitator of the District Equity Committee 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 me 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. 

As always, we will be including numerous stakeholders, as we cannot be successful without the input and contributions of parents, students and members of the Valley Central community.