Earlier this month, the New Paltz Central School District’s Board of Education unanimously approved a proposal with the Due East Educational Equity Collaborative for equity training for the 2022-23 school year.
Though they’ve made equity and antiracism a district priority, trustees and the district have faced some public criticism for the perception of difficulty with hiring and keeping employees of color.
Former Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina resigned from her position over the summer, just two years after she took the helm and helped steer the district through the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to Urbina-Medina’s resignation, Assistant Superintendent of Business Sharifa Carbon officially resigned in April after being placed on administrative leave one month earlier. Carbon has since taken a similar role in the Kingston City School District.
Other educators of color have since followed.
Approved by trustees during a School Board meeting held on Wednesday, April 7, the partnership with Due East is designed to build internal equity capacity, strengthen the equity mindset in administrators and educators, and support high levels of learning for all students.
The program will cost the district roughly $25,300 and includes a six-part monthly educational equity leadership collaboration meeting for district leadership and members of REIAC, the district’s Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee. There will also be educational equity programming on the second Thursday of each month throughout the school year, and a three-part educational equity leadership series for district and building administrators.
“It’s not perfect, nor is it intended to be all encompassing,” said Interim Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg. “But we think it’s encouraging.”
While the Due East relationship will involve REIAC, critics of the plan lamented its creation without input from the committee on some of its details.
“I think it’s a great step forward to include REIAC,” said Melissa Rock, one of six community members on the committee. “That’s something that we’ve wanted for a long time, and we appreciate that step forward. But what I did note was that dates and times have already been set, and we weren’t consulted on those. It’s obviously very challenging for everybody’s schedules, but is that set, or can there be a discussion around some of those dates? It would be a shame to have that and not have any kind of good representation from REIAC membership…Do you want REIAC representatives? How does that work since this is the first time I’m hearing about it?”
In addition to Rock, Elizabeth Pickett, Molly Brooks, Rebecca Wong, Allison Lauchaire and Limina Grace Harmon are the community members on REIAC. Brian Cournoyer is the School Board’s REIAC representative, with Board President Johanna Herget an alternate. Ginger King and Laura Bryant represent instructional staff on REIAC, while its student representatives for the 2022-23 school year are Sisa Castellanos, Suri Castellanos and Bentley McNulty.
In addition to REIAC not being consulted about scheduling, Rock was concerned that other elements of the Due East plan might not be reaching everyone, a sentiment echoed at the School Board meeting by former trustee Diana Armstead.
“This Board here in and of itself is not equity focused or equity trained,” Armstead said. “It is truly disturbing to witness the people of color walking out the doors in numbers and witnessing transgressors be rewarded. It is also disturbing that while the BOE has oversight of REIAC, it is lacking in the demonstration of these leadership qualities and attributes as an agent of change.”
Rock also expressed concern about the recent departure of educators of color, particularly women.
“If they’re choosing to leave, why are we not an attractive district?” Rock said. “If they’re being pushed out, what’s going on? Obviously there’s a lot of closed door stuff happening, but my worry is that then we become an unattractive district to work in because they see so many people leaving…Word does get out. It would be wonderful to be able to kind of take this as an opportunity to try to understand how we can create a better culture of welcoming people and working with people, specifically and especially people of color since they’re very underrepresented in our teaching and support staff and administration.”
Josefsberg said assuming every recent departure of administrators and educators of color was due to inequity would be disingenuous.
“I recognize that we as district are afflicted by distrust and that it may lead some to believe that particular personnel matters have some kind of organizational taint attached to (them),” Josefsberg said. “Distrust makes certain beliefs conceivable, but it also has the effect of displacing more plausible and more benign explanations.”
School officials said they hope the relationship with Due East and the involvement of REIAC will help erase that distrust and result in a school district that’s more equitable for its students, faculty and staff.