A $450,000 grant awarded in 2017 from the National Education Association to the New York State United Teachers allowed the Kingston City School District to undergo evaluations in how best to develop diversity-based and equitable programs.
The KCSD joined school districts in Amsterdam and Schenectady in receiving equity and culture training that focused on redesigning, enhancing and implementing early career mentoring programs to deepen the understanding of racial justice principles and how racial justice can impact students, educators and the community at large.
“We brought in our new teachers with our mentors and we started training them in awareness and bias, and just opening doors and having conversations, and giving people a chance to really think about who they were and who other people were,” said former Kingston Teachers Federation (KTF) president and recently retired Kingston High School English teacher Lauri Naccarato. “They’re hard conversations to have, and people were not even aware that they were biased for privilege or any of the other things that exist and were dealing with. It has been difficult work, we’ve had ups and downs, but it is moving forward.”
The Board of Education on August 3 heard an update about the grant-funded pilot program.
“It basically came about because the district was cited for over-identification of certain subgroups, particularly our young black males, our middle school males,” Naccarato said. “So when this came up, we had to partner with the district, and because of (the KTF’s) strong partnership with the district, Dr. Padalino supported it and (former Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Administration) John Voerg embraced it; he became a partner in this, and we went out and started running.”
The program included a study of the district’s curriculum and policies through a cultural lens in an effort to identify areas of potential racial injustice. Moving forward, the lessons learned will be applied to policy changes to ensure equity, not only in race, but also gender identity and other often marginalized groups.
Bernice Rivera, director of the NYSUT Educational Learning Trust, commended the district for being candid about sensitive issues, particularly in identifying where it might not have been doing a good enough job.
“When it comes to talking about equity work, Kingston was always very open to have these conversations,” said Rivera. “That collaboration was critical, and we saw so many things evolve because of those honest conversations.”
Laura Sagan, the district’s director of secondary humanities, likened the work to gardening.
“With this grant, I like to look at it that we did a lot of planting of seeds,” Sagan said. “And with the planting of seeds, some of them are intentional, and sometimes you have seeds that you didn’t intend to plant, but got planted and are blooming and taking hold. This is what’s happening here, now, in Kingston. We’ve had some intentional goals, and we’ve had some things that have rippled out and have only made us better and stronger.”