Caesar Rodney refines new equity and diversity coordinator position

CAMDEN — When determining the “vibe” for a coordinator of equity and diversity, Caesar Rodney School District administrators and school board members wanted to strike the balance between someone who could thoughtfully respond to students’ concerns and also be proactive for instilling celebration of diversity into the fabric of the district.

“We want this to be a positive impact on the district, not just hearing complaints but being preventative … so that there would not be any complaints, making sure that we’re meeting the needs of all the students in the district, providing avenues for equal access and turning the whole equity piece into making sure there’s equality across the district,” said Tamara Toles Torain, executive assistant to the superintendent. “We want it to be a fun position, as well, where we get to celebrate each other.”

The board met during a workshop Friday morning to further discuss the goals of the position, which Caesar Rodney voted to create last week.

The position is one of the first to come of several promises the school district and its board made to the students after a petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures calling on the district to adopt “specific, anti-racist educational policies.”

In a letter earlier this month, the district responded to the concerns raised by students and provided goals, such as creating the new position, re-evaluating the humanities curriculum, commitment to promoting the hiring of people of color, diversity training and meeting regularly with the Black Student Union.

Posted Friday, the coordinator would be a 12-month position at the district level. The individual would be responsible for engaging with school communities — parents, students, district leaders, educators and support staff — as well as the “implementation, participation and evaluation of plans that specifically target equity and engagement for underrepresented student groups,” according to the posting.

Responsibilities would include serving as a staff support to the district’s equity committee — an initiative also made in response to student concerns — as well as assisting with equity training and coaching, planning and marketing district-wide initiative focused on diversity and cultural awareness and the review of grievances and complaints related to reports of inequity and unfair treatment.

A master’s degree is preferred, and the salary will adhere to the local salary schedules, based on experience and degree, in accordance with state employees.

At the workshop Friday, the board members sought to hone in on the vision of the job.

The position would be districtwide, but administrators hope to see the individual embedded into the work of the schools.

Michael Noel, director of human resources for the district, said that, along with the districtwide committee, the individual would serve as a liaison with all the buildings, participating in all of the different building committee meetings, whether that’s in person or following up later.

“I think they definitely have that bridge between the districtwide perspective and the individual building perspective,” he said.

Beyond serving on the committee, the coordinator would also be part of the school community through creation of culturally responsive activities, said Dr. Toles Torain.

“I do also anticipate [administration] introducing that person to the school population and some of their welcome back activity as well, so that the students are aware of the role, and the role that the person plays in their actual school community,” she said.

Board member Dave Failing noted that having this position handle grievances is also important. While he said the district has a “thorough process for grievances,” he added that this position could further act as an advocate for students and staff.

Board member Joyce Denman cautioned against overwhelming the responsibilities of this position when certain instances could be handled at the school level.

“I do think there should be access from the student level but I’m afraid that that might be too big of something for an individual person to be expected to put on their responsibilities,” she said.

“In my construction business, when you put water on a spark, it doesn’t turn into a fire. And so the quicker response that you have, quite often, if it’s the right response, calms things down. And then you get focused on a solution,” Mr. Failing said.

On top of those aspects, Dr. Toles Torain noted that the district should look for someone well-versed in cultural competency, implicit bias, inclusion, school law and historical perspective.

Finding the right person who could target all of these different aspects, however, was a concern.

“Working with the state with their equity team, I do sit in meetings where there are lots of people who are interested in this work, so I believe that we will get some applicants that are possibly from the region but we may get a national applicant,” she said. “I don’t know if we have what it takes to necessarily attract them, but I do know that there are people out there that are actively doing this work on a national level.”

Mr. Failing noted that getting the right “vibe” of the position was important.

“As it’s written, I think everything works. It’s just we want to get the vibe right where the position is really effective and embraced and respected in our whole school [district],” he said.