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Lack of diversity on school staff discussed

by Madison White Franks 

KILMARNOCK—A citizen’s comments indicating a need for more diversity among school administrators prompted related statements from Lancaster school board members during their August 7 meeting.

Lloyd Hill noted the school system is hiring for administrative roles and not filling them with people of color.

“I have sat back patiently and watched us hire positions and for some reason we have not managed to fill them with any person of color. I have looked at our sister county and they have managed to find qualified people to fill those roles and I do not understand why we can’t do it here. It leads me to believe that it must not be one of our core values or it must not be part of our strategic plan that we think diversity is important,” said Hill.

“If we sit back and allow our kids to go to school without seeing people of color in important roles, what kind of picture does that paint to them as far as opportunities that they have to succeed,” he continued. “I think we must do a better job…we are not happy as a community.”

Students of color represent over 65% of the student body, he said.

A few of the board members addressed Hill’s concern.

“I’m very disappointed that there is not more diversity at the administrative level at our schools…it’s a little bit more important to me because I am a person of color,” said District 2 member Kenya Moody. “People like me who have African American children want their children to know that they can be administrators, but sometimes you don’t believe it when you can’t see it and it’s not tangible and right now it’s really not tangible in our school system for them to see.

“We are all here for a reason and I am here to make sure there is equity for all children, that’s black, white, man, woman and special ed,” said Moody.

“I understand exactly what you are saying and we feel exactly the same way. We feel very strongly about getting black leadership in the school and as difficult as that has been, I think from what I am seeing, we are lining up the personnel that we can start promoting and training into those positions,” said District 3 board member Audrey Thomasson. “We want diversity too.”

“It’s a tough row to hoe and the reason it’s a tough row to hoe is because it is my understanding that very few black students in college go on to be teachers, and those that go on to be teachers are going to generally go where there is the most money so they get jobs very quickly. We are competing at our level of payment for students who have jobs as teachers in Northern Virginia which offers a lot more money,” said District 5 member and chairman Bob Westbrook.

“We have initiated a grow your own program…we are encouraging every student and certainly students of color to go to college to become a teacher and come back to their home and work as a teacher,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of people disregarding a need, it’s a matter that we want the very best for the student that we have and the best qualified and I hope that fits in with what you are saying about diversity.”

“When you are a minority and qualified, you can get paid better up north…we don’t really compete real well on that. I believe now that we should bring in bright people and mentor them and promote from within and we can advance them over time to the positions of leadership,” said District 1 board member Bob Smart.

“The things that you have mentioned are real but our sister county has managed to overcome them…I have always believed that the most effective and best recruitment we have is another administrator or teacher going out into the world and telling folks what a great place this is to work. But if the ones we have, if the perception is that they aren’t being treated fairly, they aren’t going to go out and spread the good news as to what is happening in Lancaster County,” said Hill.

“My concern is that I see lip service given to it but I don’t see any place in the budget to staff whoever we may have to staff. I don’t see us developing a relationship with those institutions that produce the kinds of teachers and administrators that we want, I don’t see us maintaining the ones that we have once we get them…if we wait until we grow our own, we would have lost almost an entire generation of kids waiting for that system to finally work,” he said.

“In the state of Virginia in the past several years, if you take all of the people that are majoring in education at all the universities in the state approximately 7% are black so you have nothing to choose from to start with,” said Bill Warren of the Lancaster County Virginia Education Foundation.

Parent C.D. Hathaway said that before the schools can recruit and retain teachers, the school board must work closely with the board of supervisors to ensure that the county has more employment opportunities for teachers’ families regardless of their race.

Other items 

Budget and finance director Whitney Barrack said the school’s healthcare insurance provider has changed from Optima to Anthem.

“The rates went up drastically across the board whether we were with Optima or with Anthem. Anthem gives us a larger network,” said Barrack.

There were complaints from employees that they were limited on doctors due to Optima’s network so with Anthem there will be more options available, she said.

In July, the school board increased student lunch fees at all schools, as mandated by the state of Virginia for the new school year. For students, the fees will be $2.60 at the primary school and $2.65 at the middle and high schools.

The school board last week set the adult fees at $3.25 at all schools and $3.75 for wrap and sub options at the middle and high schools.

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