Caesar Rodney to hire equity and diversity coordinator

CAMDEN — Caesar Rodney School District will hire a coordinator of equity and diversity in response to concerns identified by high school students regarding acts of racism and microaggressions.

The board unanimously voted to create the position, with board member Scott Wilson absent from the meeting. The board plans to meet next week in a workshop to further discuss the responsibilities and qualifications for the position.

“I think this is definitely the right path to move down,” said board member Mike Marasco. “I believe this can add a lot of value to our district with the right person and the right guidance for all of our students and all of our staff.”

Board member David Failing agreed.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea that we have somebody totally focused on equity,” he said.

Both noted, however, that having a committee — consisting of school leadership, administration, board representation, student and parent representatives — to help establish the responsibilities of the position.

“I want to thank everybody for us reacting as quick as we have. I think time, at this point, was very important that we make a strong statement that we hear,” Mr. Failing said. “But we’ve got a little bit of time and I think taking that time to fine tune that position and how it really works with the committee… if we’re going to do it, let’s do it really well. Let’s make it very successful.”

The decision 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.”

“Today, we reflect upon ‘If not now, when?’” reads a letter released by school board president Jessica Marelli, Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald and high school principal Sherry Kijowski June 12. “We have reviewed and considered the request of the student petition we received. Our black students’ voices are important and we are listening.”

As she spoke to the school board Tuesday during its meeting, that’s what rising CRHS senior Amanda Eric asked of them.

She said that at the high school she holds a number of leadership positions, including as one of the founders of a newly formed Black Student Union.

In those positions, she said, she is meant to be a voice to represent her peers, to voice “their ideas, goals, objectives and, most importantly, issues and concerns,” she said.

“Right now my peers are calling on me. They are asking me to speak out for them. Our concerns range from feeling uncomfortable in educational spaces when any racial, discriminative or microaggressive language comes to the surface; from feeling unheard, or looked over, when reporting issues occurring in our day to day lives; from feeling unsupported and cared for when some of our educators lacked response to the current state of our country,” she continued. “And many more things.”

She brought up concerns that were echoed in the petition, which called for a re-evaluation of the curriculum to be more inclusive of multicultural history, the creation of concrete resources for students to contact in times of need and staff that is provided with diversity training.

“As I and some of my peers go into our last year at Caesar Rodney High School, we hope to finish our two million minutes knowing we did everything we could to make Caesar Rodney High School a better place than we started it,” she said.

The petition and student activism stems from an Instagram post made by Dr. Kijowski that stated, “All Means All.”

“I have come to realize that this has not been the experience for many black students at CR High School,” she wrote in a letter posted June 12 released about a week after her Instagram post. “… I want you to feel proud of your school, and I want each of you to feel like you contribute to the vitality and legacy of our building. This means that some things need to change. This means that Black Lives Matter must be part of the Rider experience.”

In her letter, Dr. Kijowski announced a series of goals for the high school, which included professional development for all staff to focus on cultural awareness, sensitivity training, trauma and equity; supporting a student-led black student union; reviewing curriculum for multicultural readings; supporting registration to vote for all students 18 or older before the next election; and hosting a historically black college/universities college fair next year.

“While this list isn’t all-inclusive, it provides a launching point for CRHS,” she wrote.

The district likewise provided its 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 BSU.

“All of these efforts will be done collaboratively, transparently and inclusive of our district community,” the letter reads. “We will embrace this very painful time in America’s history as an opportunity to intently address the way in which we do things.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, board president Jessica Marelli said that working together was vital.

“I think it’s really important that, with this equity position and with the committee, we have district wide buy in. Every group has to be in support of the changes that we’re trying to make. The board has to be united. The administration has to be united. The students, the teachers, the community all have to say, ‘Let’s make these changes together,’” she said. “I think if we do that and if we implement a committee that, if we get this committee together and this committee functions well and we have an equity coordinator, I think we can do really amazing things.”

As she concluded her remarks to the board, Ms. Eric asked for the administration to hear their students, and to act.

“I leave you all here tonight simply asking you to continue listening. Listen to our struggles. Listen to our concerns. Listen to our goals, our passions. Simply just keep listening to us. And with that, please take action,” Ms. Eric told the board. “We can all say that we can do better than yesterday but until we actually take the first step, we are only fooling ourselves.”