Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Opinion: Superintendent Search Process Should Be More Inclusive

Opinion piece submitted by Quentin Phipps and Diana Martinez, previously published in the Middletown Press. Phipps and Martinez have also sent a letter to the Board of Education, outlining steps they feel would make the search for a new Superintendent of Schools "meaningful, thoughtful, and fruitful." 
There is no debate that an achievement gap exists in Middletown. In Middletown, as in practically every town across our country, a child's race (even more often than their economic status) is a steady predictor for their academic success. If our community can agree that White children are not inherently smarter than Black and Brown children, then we have to question why an estimated 70% of our Black and Brown children are not meeting our educational expectations. Middletown has a moral, ethical, and economic imperative to address the systemic issues that contribute to these disparities in educational outcomes.

Many Middletown community members participated in the survey and focus groups hosted for the Board of Education’s Superintendent search. We implored our elected officials to recognize the educational crisis we are facing and to put racial equity at the forefront of their decision making process. Members of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition’s Education Committee also sent the Board a letter detailing several conditions crucial to contracting a Superintendent capable of addressing how our system has historically failed students of color. As this search process comes to a close and the interview process begins, we are disappointed that none of our suggestions were adopted and that there is no plan to address them in the weeks to come. For instance, we were outraged that almost all mentions of race and equity in the Boards’ Leadership Profile Report were erased and replaced with “ALL”.

We cannot both tout our diverse student population as a strength and then turn around and attempt to present our town and our needs homogeneously--this is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical. ALL of our children should be excelling in ALL our schools, ALL of our children should see themselves represented in our teaching and administrative staff, ALL of our children deserve to have their educational needs met but that is not our reality. Again, roughly 70% of our Black and Latino children are below grade level in reading--this is our reality. If we truly believe ALL our children should thrive in our schools, then we need to focus our collective efforts on improving outcomes for those who historically have not. And while one person cannot be expected to fix decades of inequity, we have a unique opportunity to find a leader who will set us on the right track.    

There is no clearer indicator of the depth of our systemic issues around race then the ease with which the people entrusted to represent ALL of us can actively ignore every data point representing the struggles of some of us. Not only has our Board rejected the idea that we need to find an educational leader well-versed in racial equity, they have not even able to admit and have used language that actively erases the fact that we have a problem. Furthermore, based on their timeline, it seems one series of focus groups and a pre-search survey were the only opportunities for community engagement in the decision process. This should raise alarms. We should all be concerned with Cooperative Educational Services’ ability to secure an educational leader prepared for the unique challenges around equity for the City of Middletown.

The current lack of communication between the Board and the community indicate that this process does not include us all and thereby will not fulfill the needs of us all. As such, we insist Middletown BoE incorporate our original suggestions in their process. This includes requiring finalists to share their vision for Middletown Schools via public presentations with opportunity for community feedback. This decision is too important to be made with minimal community input and demands transparency. Our coalition has offered and continues to offer BoE leaders our support in creating an inclusive and equitable education community for our children. The first step forward is admitting we have a problem.

Quentin Phipps and Diana Martinez
Education Subcommittee Co-Chairs
Middletown Racial Justice Coalition

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