New Paltz School District holds community forum on racial equity in schools

The New Paltz Central School District held a community workshop on racial equity on Monday. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The New Paltz Central School District held a community forum Monday, Nov. 13 for parents, students and community members to offer their input about the ongoing initiative to establish racial equity in the schools. The workshop-style meeting was led by educational consultant Natalie McGee of Generation Ready, a national provider of professional learning services that has been engaged by the New Paltz district to train its educators how to develop cultural proficiency in the schools. The process, as noted by McGee at a previous meeting on racial equity, “is not a quick fix. It’s something we are going to collectively do together.”

The turnout for the meeting was quite good, with nearly 100 participants showing up. Child care was provided in the classroom next door. The workshop was structured so that attendees were broken up into groups of 6-8, who first discussed the issues amongst themselves, then shared their findings with the entire group.


According to the National Association of Social Workers, cultural proficiency has been defined as “the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, spiritual traditions, immigration status and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms and values the worth of individuals, families and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each.”

The New Paltz Central School District has declared they are “committed to ensuring that all students receive the best possible education in a safe, secure, stimulating and welcoming learning environment. This commitment is offered to every child, regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, socioeconomic status or gender identity/sexual orientation.”

The search to develop racial equity in the New Paltz schools began several years ago when an incident involving the exchange of racial slurs between two students led to the district inviting the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to the high school to determine whether this was an isolated incident or part of a more widespread problem. During the two-day exercise that ensued under the auspices of a program called Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (SPIRIT), the DOJ found that some students experienced issues related not only to race, but also socioeconomic status and, to a lesser extent, religion.

Monday’s community forum was focused exclusively on issues of racial equity, but the district is also planning to address other diversity-related issues in future meetings, including those connected to poverty, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.

In November 2016, a plan of action to develop racial equity and cultural proficiency was developed by the district, providing a framework for future action. The plan will be continually revised based on data, research and available information such as that gleaned in meetings like the one held Monday.

Superintendent of Schools Maria Rice addressed the recent incident at the high school in which swastikas and the “N” word were drawn on the exterior of the building using a carrot. “Those kinds of incidents will not be tolerated in this school.” A letter about the incident went home to parents, she said, and then discussion between administrators and faculty ensued as to what the next steps should be. A school assembly to talk about it with students is one of the measures being contemplated.

In addition to dozens of community members and several high school students, attendees at Monday’s meeting included Deputy Superintendent of Schools Michelle Martoni and Superintendent of Business Richard Linden along with current and former Board of Education members.

Participants at the community forum were passionate and vocal about their concerns, which ranged from believing there is not enough diversity in the teaching staff to an expressed need to develop consistent policies and a common language to deal with problems as they arise.

The district plans to develop racially equitable curriculum and make sure the faculty and staff have the knowledge they’ll need to be effective in teaching it by offering professional development to the entire staff, beginning with instructional staff members.

“Ultimately, we aim to help our staff and students become proficient in identifying acts of racism, and de-escalating racially charged incidents, including ones that unconsciously or unintentionally express a prejudiced attitude.”

There are 6 comments

    1. JamaicaonHudson

      Actually, “jeffers”, Trump won because almost half of the electorate didn’t show–and we didn’t show because we didn’t like what was on the bill. Both Clinton and Trump were horribly unpopular (and always will be).

      Anywho, have a lovely day.

      1. jeffers

        please stay focused ‘JamaicaonHudson’. the contest was between trump and clinton. trump won bc he got more votes in the states necessary to get more electoral votes. he got more votes bc the left is obsessed with racial score-settling.

        1. JamaicaonHudson

          Dear, sweet, naive “jeffers”, while Trump won the electoral college, he lost the popular vote. He lost the popular vote because *drum roll* he was unpopular. He was so unpopular that (as unpopular as Clinton was) she beat him by roughly 3 million votes (65.8 million to 63 million). However, since the electoral college determines the outcome, we have a Trump presidency. Don’t for a minute think that winning the electoral college means that the majority supports the man (or the false ideology he’s peddling).

          Technically, and here’s the sticker, roughly 100 million eligible voters abstained (including yours truly)…There was no way I could cast my ballot for any of the candidates–too messy, the lot. “Me” not showing up, gave “you” a default victory (for which “you” should thankful). However, if the other party (or the Republicans) dig up something other than a glorified cartoon character, maybe a larger portion of the electorate shows up? Remember, even if all 63 million Red Hats show up again, they might have to contend with a sizable portion of 165 million American voters who didn’t cast a ballot for Trump. Fact is, while you may love Trump (and his idiotic act), mathematically, you’re in the MINORITY, as most Americans do not share your opinion.

          Hopefully, this clarifies things…

          1. jeffers

            JamaicaonHudson: Your attempt to school me in your first paragraph is unnecessary- I wrote “Trump got more votes in the states necessary to get more electoral votes.” This is how one wins the electoral college. Everyone knows that’s the goal so a candidate should campaign accordingly, by state. (vs. by people, in which case you’d spend all your time in populated states.)

            The rest of your argument assumes that Trump won because almost half of eligible voters don’t vote. Turnout was within the normal range so I’m not sure how you can so confidently say that. People who don’t vote for one of the two main parties usually either find both unacceptable (like you) or aren’t at all interested in politics for various reasons.

            Maybe think of it this way- even if you could go back in time and fiddle with the dials of turnout a bit and get Hillary in there, do you really think she’d be able to execute on her platform? She’s so widely disliked even liberals (like you) don’t support her. The only folks who were genuinely supportive of her seemed to be her exact demographic- college-educated female babyboomers. She’d have a Republican congress and trump punching from the outside, on twitter and television. She’d be like Obama’s ineffective last six years on steroids- with the inevitable Clinton scandals!

            So when I say “why trump won” it also means “why it was even possible for trump to get within striking distance, and why his supporters continue to be more driven and united than the opposition.”

            You’re a perfect case… you hate trump but didn’t vote for his opponent! Are you going to next time? Or will that opponent have to meet a series of litmus tests that guarantee the’d never get the nomination? (Or be like McGovern in 72 and get trounced)

        2. JamaicaonHudson

          Oh “Jeffers”, I don’t “hate” Trump. Nor do I “hate” Clinton. Frankly, I don’t hate either of the candidates (or their misguided supporters). Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that the plutocracy creates these charismatic pawns to trick gullible ‘folks (like yourself) that democracy exists. It doesn’t. No jolly political Santa Claus shouting superlative promises, whilst donning a magical red cap, can revive American Manufacturing–or bring back the outsourced jobs (already slated for automation). There’s no wall that will keep out the “tired and huddled masses” escaping a Third World created by the First (especially after having received the U.S. backed hand-bills promising golden, yellow-brick roads and work ‘aplenty). And, no, the most base “isms” wouldn’t disappear if a woman had been elected to the highest office in the land. It’s all very Lumière–smoke and mirrors.

          The ironic beauty of our rigged Democratic process, is that the plutocracy “prescreens” the candidates. “We, the People” merely vote on their choice. Knowing that, I (and many other Americans) abstained. Really, there was no other choice. It’s, of course, your prerogative who (or if) you cast a ballot, I wouldn’t expect the Train Effect while watching a repeat of “Groundhog’s Day”…Eventually, everyone gets tired of the same old programming.

          I think that is what’s behind this effort to become more “equitable”: A rejection of an antiquated mentality which creates social stratification (and, ultimately, unrest). It’s bizarre to want/enjoy something that harms large swaths of the population (i.e. racial/socioeconomic/gender inequity ). If New Paltz feels that this program will help their young people, what’s it to you? Whether the program is successful or not, the thought of happy, healthy children, free of stigma, shouldn’t be politicized–it should be embraced.

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