The Kingston City School District is ramping up its efforts to diversify its staff so that it more closely aligns with a diverse student population.
“As you know, internationally, both public and private businesses are consciously and purposefully recognizing the importance and value of diversity amongst their staff, and the need for and benefits of culturally responsive practices in the organizational structures,” said District Director of Recruitment/Retention and Equity Angela Armstrong, who gave a presentation to the KCSD Board of Education on Wednesday, January 19. “Let’s apply this concept to education in the Kingston City School District.”
Armstrong was most recently an assistant principal at Kingston High before taking on her present role in August 2021. During the School Board meeting, she cited among her goals increasing the number of educators of color in the district; developing an EOC (educators of color) network; building collaborative relationships; influencing and enhancing hiring and recruitment systems in the district; and working closely with the eventual executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Armstrong cited a Johns Hopkins University study from November 2018 that said students with at least one teacher of color by the 3rd grade see their chances of graduating increase by 25 percent. Elsewhere, the study found that Black students who had one Black teacher by the 3rd grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, while the same student with two Black teachers was 32 percent more likely.
A separate Johns Hopkins study from 2017 found that a low-income Black student’s probability of dropping out of school is reduced by 29 percent if they have one Black teacher in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade.
To achieve those goals, Armstrong said, Kingston will have to do a better job of hiring and retaining a diverse staff in the future. In her presentation, Armstrong shared a breakdown of the district’s student population as taken from a 2019 New York State Department of Education report. Of the 6,308 students registered in the district, 48 percent were students of color, while 51 percent were white. In the KCSD, 25 percent of students are Hispanic, 12 percent Black, nine percent multi-racial, and two percent Asian.
But while nearly half of the students in Kingston schools are students of color, the numbers are lower among the staff.
Five of the district’s 19 school administrators are educators of color (26.3%), three of the 17 guidance counselors (17.6%), two of the 16 school psychologists (12.5%), two of the 17 speech pathologists (11.7%), three of the 19 social workers (15.7%), 40 of the 570 teachers (7%), and 13 of the 150 teaching assistants (15.7%).
Armstrong said she hopes the district will be able to close those gaps with future hires, including letting students know their future in education could be right at home.
“What I’ve been doing is reaching out where I can meet people in the community and also try to build relationships as ways to get students of color who graduate into our school district, or even promote student-teaching from their schools into the district so that little kids get to see more people of color and we get more familiar and hopefully segue into job opportunities for them,” Armstrong said. “Kingston is good at posting for positions, but we’re not good at recruiting for positions. And there’s a big difference between posting and recruiting.”
The district will also have to improve its chances of keeping teachers once they’ve come to the district, Armstrong said.
“Hiring teachers of color is one step, but we also need to do the step of looking at our structures and our curriculum and making sure that we’re being culturally responsive and we’re adding that piece as well,” she said. “Knowing that we’re purposefully trying to integrate our curriculum to be more effective and more diverse will also be something that will draw educators of color to want be here and want to stay here.”
Armstrong’s efforts have also included connecting with educators of color already in the district to see if the atmosphere in Kingston is conducive to their success, and seeking solutions in areas it isn’t.
“I’ve been going around and actually meeting people and visiting schools and talking to people one-to-one just to get my face out there,” she said. “A lot of the veteran teachers know me, but I don’t know a lot of the newer educators of color.”
Trustees expressed enthusiasm
“I was an African-American teacher in…white systems, and also I was the principal of a school that had no Black teachers, either” said school board Vice-President Steven Spicer. “I wish I’d had access to an educators of color roundtable. Micro-aggressions are real, and that can be debilitating and negatively affect productivity and good mental health. We all experienced it.”
Trustee Suzanne Jordan said Armstrong’s presentation showed why a diverse staff is crucial for the district’s students.
“As a Board member, we have discussed how much it means to us to increase graduation,” Jordan said. “You just highlighted for us, with the data, the easiest way for us to do that amongst our children of color would be to hire people who have similar backgrounds and experiences…It’s so important for us to keep that in mind.”
Trustee Robin Jacobowitz said she appreciated the focus on keeping educators in the district. “We’ve talked a lot about recruitment and making sure that we can hire teachers of color, but the support network that you’re creating is also important so that people stay, and that this is a comfortable place for people to be and thrive and create a home here,” she said.