By Kerry Butrick Dowling
At the February 14, Valley Central Board of Education Meeting, district leaders announced the commencement of a recruitment campaign aimed at increasing the number of diverse candidates for district positons. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources William Miller shared that the district has been working on ideas for diversity recruitment with respect to spring and summer hires.
The district has been working along with District Media Specialist Patricia Behr and Orange-Ulster BOCES to highlight the diversity in the district and some of the programs offered as well as the desire to have a more diverse faculty and staff. The district is also participating in two virtual job fairs in an attempt to widen the recruitment net.
“We plan to blanket the career offices in the different colleges and universities that have educational programs in New York State including New York City and Long Island, northern New Jersey, Connecticut and eastern Pennsylvania. The flyers will be designed to highlight the district’s programs as well as the Hudson Valley area and are detailing our desire to plan for a more diverse faculty and staff,” explained Miller.
Miller shared that administrative staff have met with the Valley Central Racial and Social Equity Committee to establish district standards for diversity inclusion. This includes creating interview questions for the search committees. Lastly, the district is researching recruitment platforms when posting positions.
This has been a long time coming for many in the district according to Sonia Lewis, founder of Valley Central Parents for Social Justice. “I was a board member for 12 years and I fought to see this come to action. We need more diversity in our teachers and staff and we really need to do more,” shared Lewis.
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Valley Central Parents for Social Justice formed to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in the district. The group was founded by minority parents in response to what they felt were ignored reports of racism within the Valley Central School District. Members of the group are united by a mission of racial equality and equity in the school district and community.
Lisa Ruiz, also a member of Valley Central Parents for Social Justice, echoed the sentiments of needing more diversity in the district across all levels. Both Lewis and Ruiz cited a lack of minority teachers and administrators in the district as a problem when it comes to students feeling represented.
“We see few people who look like our children and that they can feel are reflections of them,” explained Ruiz.
Lewis said she approached her fellow board members during her 12 years on the school board with respect to working towards more diverse candidates, but it often fell by the wayside. “I felt I just wasn’t getting any support in the matter,” she shared.
In recent years, the district has been in the local news for inappropriate and often racially charged images posted on social media which is something Lewis and Ruiz feel compelled the district to move in the right direction.
“A lot of us recognize that it was children involved, but the problem lies within the district,” shared Lewis. Parents began talking to one another and realized their issues were actually happening to others as well and that’s what paved the path for a group to form. “Parents and students were sharing their stories and realizing they weren’t the only ones,” explained Ruiz.
The district also formed the Racial and Social Equity Committee in response to the need for more diversity and training. According to the district website, the Racial and Social Equity Committee is an advisory committee established by the Board of Education with the goal to drive accountability for schools with respect to the fair and inclusive treatment of all students. The preliminary responsibility of the committee is to review VCSD curriculum so that it reflects diversity and provides the ability to thrive in a multicultural society, focus on staff diversity and inclusion, promote cultural literacy among all staff members, assure fair and equal treatment of all students and evaluate the effectiveness of the district effort regarding equity.
Lewis and Ruiz feel that the district is moving in the right direction with respect to diversity and look forward to what the future holds. They also recognize that the past two years have been difficult for all school districts and appreciate that diversity recruitment is moving back to the forefront. “I think it’s important that we all give a little bit of grace and I think the district is moving in the right direction with this,” shared Ruiz.