Fairness Audit: Schools in Paducah Are Diverse, But Communication Breakdown, Mistrust Undermines It | New

Phase 1 of the Paducah Racial Equity Initiative is nearing completion for the Paducah Independent School District as the school system equity audit has been completed and an audit report has been provided to the Board of district administration at its Monday meeting.

The equity audit – an assessment of equity in several aspects of life in the five schools in the district and within the administration – was carried out by the Education and Civil Rights Initiative of the University of Kentucky.

Greg Vincent, Executive Director of the Education and Civil Rights Initiative, and Deputy Director Sarah LaCour oversaw the audit and presented the report to the Board of Directors.

“The public schools in Paducah are a diverse neighborhood. This diversity is viewed by many stakeholders as one of its greatest strengths, ”LaCour read in the audit report’s conclusions. “However, communication disruptions and a growing sense of mistrust have undermined the strength that diversity brings.

“… By increasing access to stimulating study programs, implementing a restorative model of discipline, and creating open channels of communication, the district can make its next phase better than the last.” “

The research team that conducted the equity audit interviewed a stakeholder committee from the school district as well as students, families, staff and community members from the beginning. of the year.

Members of the Local Equity Action Committee include Board Members Felix Akojie and Janice Howard, Deputy Superintendent Will Black, Jipaum Askew, Anne Bidwell, Shonda Burrus, Neal Clark, Dana Hernandez, Iris Horice, Varetta Hurt, Chycoby Isbell, Tammy Jones, Jed Lovejoy, Mattie Morris, Mark Rowe, Amina Watkins, Andiamo White and Elisha Winslow. The principal of McNabb Elementary School, Teresa Spann, is an ex-officio member of the committee.

Some of the issues identified by the equity audit research team included:

• Limited access to Advanced Placement courses for non-white students. Added to this are concerns that Clark Elementary School – which has a much higher percentage of white students than the other two elementary schools in the district (61% vs. 36% at Morgan Elementary and 18% in McNabb) – has a talented teaching position while the other two schools have part-time positions.

It was believed that disparities in educational opportunities began at the elementary school level and continued through to the secondary level.

• Students and staff felt district policies were unfair or applied unfairly. Students expressed concerns about racial bias and favoritism, while staff members shared concerns about bias and cronyism. The community has expressed concerns about racial bias in the discipline, including expulsion or suspension.

• There is a high level of mistrust as well as concerns about poor communication. The apparent lack of transparency in the decision-making process allows for these feelings.

• In a survey based on the statement “There are inequalities in the district” given to students, staff, parents and community members, 54% of staff and 52% of community members were agree or strongly agree, while 39% of parents agreed and 34% disagreed. Almost a third of the students, 31%, agreed with the statement. These percentages were consistent among white and non-white students.

• In terms of overall sense of inclusion, on a 100-point scale, black staff scored a 40, while black family members scored a 48.5, while white staff scored a. 54 and white family members got a 53.

Additionally, LGBTQ + students scored a 45, while non-LGBTQ + students scored a 52.

“I have heard stories of teachers who are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. and I had meetings with homophobic, racist, transphobic students, etc. A white student said in the report.

• There were concerns – mainly from students – that dress codes were unfair and racist and sexist.

Vincent and LaCour’s recommendations included:

• The district needs to address concerns about communication and mistrust, perhaps through excessive communication, extending communication beyond board meetings to multiple platforms and at multiple times.

In addition, to promote transparency in hiring, it was recommended that hiring committees receive each application for a position rather than the shortlisted candidates.

• The district should systematically collect, reflect on and publicly report data on the use of exclusionary discipline. In addition, the district should use restorative justice as a means of repairing the damage caused by negative behavior rather than simply punishing the wrongdoer.

“Rather than working on student exclusion – as you would with suspension or expulsion – restorative justice focuses on restoring students in the community as participants while still holding them accountable for their behavior by terms of consequences for the community, ”LaCour told the board. .

• The district should adopt a PA for all policy regarding its advanced level courses and rework the curriculum from middle to high school to prepare all students to participate in the most demanding program.

• The district should establish better defined standards for qualification for the Gifted and Talented program.

• Dress code should be reviewed and refined by staff with various stakeholders.

The fairness audit and several of the school district’s decisions to move toward more fairness came after a photo surfaced in October 2020 showing Superintendent Donald Shively – taken in 2002 when Shively was a high school teacher Paducah Tilghman and Assistant Football Coach – in blackface wearing a PTHS T-shirt, gold chain with dollar sign and do-rag.

Shively is undergoing 40 days of diversity training as part of the Messenger Diversity Training Program led by Pastor Edward L. Palmer Sr. The district council decided on December 11 to keep Shively in office but to make her take 40 days of unpaid leave to take training.

“This year has been extremely difficult,” a white student told a member of the audit research team. “The issues we face with racial equity have been around for a long time and have been exacerbated by a hurtful choice. It was difficult to watch our families and teachers of color experience devastating emotions. I’m afraid they won’t feel loved, unimportant, and any trust that used to exist no longer exists.

The audit indicated that a positive change since the start of the audit has been the hiring of Director of Actions, Shonda Hollowell-Burrus.

Phase 1 of the Racial Equity Initiative concludes with the formation of an action plan by the district council.

Phase 2 involves the development and implementation of a training plan to address the areas of growth identified in the equity audit and form a policy review. Phase 3 includes the development of a minority recruitment plan and the establishment of a community peer review process.

Chairman of the Board, Dr. Carl LeBuhn, thanked Vincent and LaCour for their work on “what is, to my knowledge, the district’s very first equity audit.”

“As a Board of Trustees and all of us as a larger community, we have gained and will continue to develop a much deeper understanding of the needs of our students and our community through the hard work you all have provided,” did he declare. “

“In the months and years to come, as we continue the dialogue and work together to resolve the issues highlighted in this report, we will certainly improve. In many ways, the independent schools in Paducah offer more opportunities now than at any time in the past, and there are more opportunities on the horizon.

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