Commentary: Minority Liaison Committee updates Cape Henlopen district

Editor’s note: This letter was written collaboratively between community members and Cape Henlopen School District personnel and administration. It was sent by Community Minority Liaison Committee co-founder Hattie Bull of Milton.

Dear Cape Henlopen School Board and Cape Community,

Concerned about racism and racial disparities in the Cape Henlopen School District, a group of community members started a partnership with the Cape Henlopen School District in the 2017-18 school year. Since then, this group of concerned and connected citizens (called the Community Minority Liaison Committee or CMLC) has met regularly with a group of Cape teachers, staff, administrators and school board members. The focus of the meetings has been ensuring that all students receive an equitable education and are treated fairly.

The CMLC established three goals: increase minority hiring, decrease disproportionality in discipline and close the achievement gap. The committee’s focus is on the students and what is best for them. All three of the goals impact student learning and innovative practices.

The purpose of this letter is to report to the larger community on progress to date. The focus on diversifying instructional staff to more closely resemble the Cape student body’s composition has resulted in over 30% of the teachers hired in the past two years being African American or Latinx. To achieve these numbers, the district increased recruitment at historically Black colleges and universities, started a “grow our own” program to help paraprofessionals become teachers and changed hiring practices.

To address disproportionality in discipline, the district and the CMLC reviewed discipline data, noted areas of racial or ethnic disparity and considered structural and policy remedies. As a result, Cape adopted restorative practices and provided professional development to facilitate implementation. With input from the CMLC, the district also created a new code of conduct that is sensitive to all students. Disparities still exist, but the district’s number of disciplinary actions overall, as well as for minority students, has dropped with the adoption of the new practices and code of conduct.

Cape has put efforts toward closing the achievement gap or the disparity between different groups of students. Working together for the past two years, the CMLC and the district have focused professional development on equity, explored trauma-informed care and students’ mental health needs and reached out to the families of African American students to strengthen their feeling of connection to the school. Two outside experts, Dr. Pedro Noguera and Adolf Brown, provided equity-focused professional development that members of the committee also attended.

Family outreach has included both home visits by teams with representatives of the district and the CMLC and family nights at schools. The district also partnered with the CMLC and the Sunshine Circle Club to host a Pre-Summer Book Party at the Lewes Public Library. With school representatives, CMLC members have hosted gatherings in neighborhood centers and in housing developments that had large concentrations of African American households. Another partnership was with Delaware State University and the student teachers assigned to the district. Together, the district and the CMLC strove to ensure that these student teachers had what they needed to be successful and found a welcome in the community. The partnership is reciprocal and will help current Cape teaching staff with culturally responsive teaching efforts.

As we continue working together on the goals for the sake of the students, the district and the Community Minority Liaison Committee are committed to doing so with a sense of urgency and transparency. We all believe that it “takes a village” to ensure our students are successful. This collaborative relationship is productive and innovative. It is a model that has gained notice both in Delaware and nationally. We are proud of the work we have done, but we are even more excited about all the work we have left to do, which includes enhancing the curriculum and adding courses to reflect the contributions of all peoples!

The following organizations are supportive of this letter and also contributed content: the Community Minority Liaison Committee (Cape district/community members), the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, the NAACP/Milford-Slaughter branch, Friendship Baptist Church, the Social and Environmental Committee of the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, Faith United Methodist Church, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Organization of Sussex County and the Sunshine Circle Club.