CR District hires equity and diversity head, Milford creates similar post

CAMDEN — The Caesar Rodney school board met the district’s new coordinator of equity and diversity last week, while a similar position was also just created in Milford.

Cliffvon Howell will begin his role as coordinator of equity and diversity for the district on Aug. 3. Mr. Howell joins Caesar Rodney after 21 years of working with children and juveniles, he said, with 10 years in behavioral health and mental health and 11 years in the criminal justice world.

“I’m going to bring that perspective with me into K-12 and one of the things I’m known for is being a strong communicator and a good listener,” he said. “I think those are some strengths that I have and I think those will do me well in this position.”

The position was created in June as one of the first of several promises the school district and its board made to the students after a petition garnered thousands of signatures calling on the district to adopt “specific, antiracist educational policies.”

According to a job listing, the coordinator is a 12-month position at the district level. Mr. Howell will 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 also include serving as a staff support to the district’s equity committee — an initiative also made in response to student concerns. The coordinator would also assist with equity training and coaching, planning and marketing district-wide initiatives focused on diversity and cultural awareness and the review of grievances and complaints related to reports of inequity and unfair treatment.

Mr. Howell was selected by a group of stakeholders representing the school board, administration, teachers, paraprofessionals, with student and parent input as well, said Tamara Toles Torain, executive assistant to the superintendent.

“He’s a planner. He’s an implementer. He’s a community organizer. He’s a public speaker,” Dr. Torain said. “I feel strongly, with the help of the committee, that we’ve selected someone who can catapult the district to the next level in this work.”

Mr. Howell called this a “great opportunity.”

“One of the things that people who work with me will tell you is I’m about every kid having the best opportunity to learn to succeed and thrive,” he said. “Environment feeds into that, but also the way we interact and the example that we set. These are some of the things that push and motivate me.”

Milford approves position

Meanwhile, the school board in Milford approved establishing an equity leadership position in the district. The vote was 5-2, with Kristopher Thompson and Jason Miller dissenting.

The position would be either a supervisor or specialist role, and could be funded with Title I, grant or state earnings, Milford superintendent Kevin Dickerson said.

Depending on enrollment, the district could hit the threshold to get an extra supervisor position added to their leadership team. Right now, their enrollment level sits just below that point and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Dickerson said there is some uncertainty there. He believes the district has the resources to create the role in either capacity, however.

“We do feel like it’s a position that would be very beneficial to our entire district community and also making sure we service our students in the best ways, [most] equitable ways possible,” he said.

The position would “give a really good lens on equity and diversity,” Dr. Dickerson continued. The role would target leadership, communication, data, human resources for hiring practices, while also acting as a district-community liaison and school support. The position would also aim to address opportunity gaps and achievement gaps.

Board members Jean Wylie and Rony Baltazar-Lopez noted that the position was important for communication. Mr. Baltazar-Lopez said that listing the eventual position as bilingual strongly preferred.

“Obviously, we serve a very diverse district and we want to make sure that we serve our district in the best way possible, in a fair way, in an equitable way, as well, through all our processes,” Dr. Dickerson said.

Board member David Vezmar agreed that it is a necessary position for the district, but was concerned about the list of responsibilities.

“It seems like it encompasses a lot of skill sets,” he said, noting supervising, facilitating outreach.
Data lead, he pointed out, is a “large role, I would imagine.”

“I just want to be sure we don’t create a position that we’re looking for such a wide range of skill sets that we end up watering down some of those skill sets and not getting some of the skill sets we really need for this role,” he added.

Mr. Miller, who said he voted against the item as written, cited concerns with the uncertainty of what the position would be.
“This seems a little premature to move that quickly to authorize a position,” he said. “I would clearly like to see [Dr. Dickerson] come back with a more sussed out proposal as a full staff person; … this is kind of still a loose concept. But that might just be my opinion.”

Dr. Dickerson said he will be meeting the Delaware Department of Education’s new chief equity officer Jim Simmons to discuss how the district can increase awareness of equity and access and how to approach it as a district.