Kingston school board comes out in favor of diversity, inclusiveness

 

Using a quote by a former United States ambassador to the United Nations as inspiration, the Kingston Board of Education recently released a statement meant to further establish the district as one that is open and inclusive to all students.

“Those who stand up for justice, rather than stay silent in the face of injustice, are known as Upstanders,” said Samantha Power, who served as the 28th U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 2013 until President Trump took office in January.

Trustees felt compelled to make the statement in the wake of a spate of violence as white nationalists clashed with anti-fascist protestors in a southern college town.

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“In light of the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., it is incumbent on the Kingston City School District Board of Education to unequivocally state that our district will provide a safe, inclusive environment for our diverse population,” reads the statement. “We will continue to support all educational efforts to promote developmentally appropriate lessons in social justice, anti-bias, bullying, race relations, and other topics that will support the development of ‘Upstanders’ in our school community.”

Superintendent Paul Padalino last month said he fully supported the board’s objective in clarifying the district’s position in a time of increasing unrest.

“I think that was a good statement put out by the Board of Education,” Padalino said. “[It’s] about inclusivity and the safe haven that is our school district. And that’s one of the things we want to make sure all of our students know. We’re a diverse district, we expect students to be respectful of each other, and everyone is welcome here. That’s how we operate, regardless of what they feel or hear coming out of other parts of government. As far as this local government in the school district and the School Board, we’re here for every student. That’s our mission statement: We inspire, we educate, we graduate all students. That means all.”

With watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center noting an increase in incidents of bigotry, racism, misogyny and homophobia in the past year, but many local school districts like Kingston’s are working on ways to stem that tide. In elaborating on their statement, the board responded to a query by the Kingston Times collectively.

“Standing up to bias, bullies, and bigots is not always the easiest path for an individual to take,” read the board’s statement in an e-mail from President Nora Scherer. “It is, therefore one that should be ‘well lit’ or clearly set as an expectation for all.”

In order for the district to function for all students, trustees are hoping to enlist the aid of parents, guardians and other adults and role models.

“There is no doubt that parents and teachers alike would prefer that children strive to be their best selves,” read the statement. “Accordingly, it is important to remember that the examples set by the adults in a student’s life will speak far more eloquently than any rhetoric that issues from their lips. Parents and the home environment are the child’s first teachers but — in the course of their formative years, children spend a large part of their waking hours in school.”

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a nationwide campaign founded over a decade ago in an effort to unite communities and raise awareness. In the KCSD, stopping bullying is also policy.

According to the district’s Student Harassment and Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy (5320), “The school setting provides an opportunity to teach children, and emphasize among staff, that cooperation with, and respect for others, is a key district value. A program geared to prevention is designed to not only decrease incidents of bullying, but to help students build more supportive relationships with one another by integrating the bullying prevention program into classroom instruction. Staff members and students will be sensitized, through district-wide professional development and instruction, to the warning signs of bullying, as well as to their responsibility to become actively involved in the prevention of bullying before overt acts occur. The components of such an effort involve providing instruction in civility, citizenship and character education that emphasizes tolerance and respect for others.”

Padalino said that “culturally responsive curriculum” also plays a key role in creating a learning environment that give all students the greatest chance of success.

“We’ve been working a lot on differentiation in the classroom, and a lot of people think differentiation is about learning styles, but it’s not just about learning styles,” he said. “It’s about what a kid learns and what they bring with them to the classroom. What life experiences are they bringing to the classroom? Is trauma in their lives affecting how they learn, and how can we teach students like that and reach students like that in am ore effective manner? That’s the future of education. We need to know our kids.”

The school board’s statement also suggested all students are capable of being “Upstanders.”

“A great deal of thought and good example needs to be given to the development of students who are confident and compassionate and capable of being ‘Upstanders’ for themselves and others,” read the statement. “It is our hope that providing a nurturing and inclusive school environment will help them become just that.”

Padalino said the KCSD is committed to fostering community and inclusiveness.

“The board’s statement and philosophy is right in line with our mission statement,” he said. “We’re a diverse community, and we believe that every kid can learn, every kid should learn, and every kid should be given the same opportunity to learn and be successful. That’s how we roll every day, and we’re always trying to do better with that.”

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