A draft diversity report shows the Kingston City School District (KCSD) has a long road to travel before the staff is reflective of the student population, said trustee Steven Spicer during a school board meeting held on Wednesday, September 6.
“If our district needs to move forward and make realistic strides and observable gains towards equity and inclusion and diversity in employment, we need specific data like this on which to build our goals and support our action plan,” Spicer said. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
The draft report, originally discussed at the previous school board meeting held in late August and shared by Spicer, shows that of 1,168 in the district, just 92 are currently filled by people of color, or 7.87 percent. According to New York State Education Department figures from the 2021-22 school year, the KCSD’s student population is around 51 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic or Latino, 11 percent black, ten percent multiracial, three percent Asian or Pacific islander and less than one percent American Indian or native Alaskan.
According to the draft report, there are six jobs in the area director and assistant director category, with only one — head of security — filled by a person of color. At the building level, the district is closest to achieving equity in assistant principals, with four people of color out of ten total positions. There are also ten building principals, including two people of color.
Of the district’s 565 teachers, just 35 are people of color, 6.2 percent. Both school counselors (6.7 percent) and guidance counselors (6.3 percent) are roughly the same percentage.
“I believe this…diversity employment rate can only be increased from vigorous school board attention,” said Spicer. “In short my fellow trustees, nothing has ever gotten better without governing body oversight. We need to write, review, employ and enforce policies that support recruitment hiring, and employ rigorous retention intervention programs and review our retention history for employees of color. We need real goals to address this challenge we need to set annual goals.”
Spicer suggested the school board seek a goal of a three-percent increase in equity hiring over the next five years, with the possibility of creating an ad hoc subcommittee to review data and improve oversight of the district’s hiring practices.
“This will not happen without specific determined action,” Spicer said. “I know this goal is not unreasonable or unattainable. Our final destination as a school district should be diverse employment at every level that mirrors our school’s children and families.”
During the meeting, superintendent Paul Padalino suggested that the district’s hiring of Angela Armstrong as director of recruitment/retention and equity shows the KCSD is taking the subject seriously.
“We put our money where our mouth is and we probably had the only director of recruitment/retention and equity in the state. That position doesn’t exist in most places, so I think we’ve made that commitment and we are moving forward.
Padalino added that the diversity report is a draft and not final, and that Armstrong will present a more thorough report at the district’s school board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 11.
Two days after the meeting, Padalino elaborated on the work Armstrong has done to help steer the ship in the right direction since coming to the KCSD, such as a diversity job fair held for the past two years.
“She went out and she found candidates and brought candidates in,” Padalino said.
Padalino added that when he provided the draft report to the school board, he made it clear that it was incomplete.
“We were still working on making sure we had all the data,” he said. “It’s not comprehensive. There are a lot of things missing there. And it could tilt the scales either way. I’m not saying that it’s going to look better or I’m saying it’s going to look worse, but those data were not accurate.”
Armstrong’s role, along with that of Kathy Sellitti as director of diversity, equity and inclusion, is part of the district’s focus on equity, Padalino said, as was training administrators received on removing bias from interviews, and the creation of an educators of color network that meets once a month.
“I think those are all best practices,” Padalino said. “We’re not just winging ideas.”
One of the hurdles school districts have faced in achieving true equity in hiring, Padalino said, is that there aren’t always candidates of color available to fill open positions.
“I think if you look across the country, 99 percent of school districts are trying to do the same thing we’re trying to do, and they’re in the same position we are,” Padalino said. “There are a lot of people looking to draw from a finite pool of candidates. It’s a challenge. And when you’re in a city district and you get into a position where you’re at 50 percent of your students are students of color, getting to 50 percent of your faculty and staff student, that’s a real challenge.”
But Padalino said he believes the KCSD has made progress, with ten hires for the 2023-24 school year people of color.
“That’s not moving it a lot, but it’s moving the needle,” Padalino said. “I think it’s going to be one of those things where to set a goal to say in two years we’re going to be there. That’s unrealistic. It’s going to take a little while to get there, especially at 50 percent. It’s a challenge.”