WSESD Social Justice Committee Minutes


10:00 Thursday, September 7, 2023 via zoom.


Committee members: Eva Nolan (EN), Robin Morgan (RMO), Tim Maciel (TM),

Other board members: Deborah Stanford (DS), Ruby McAdoo (RMC)

WSESU staff and administrators: Michael Kelliher, Mikaela Simms, Shannon Kelly

I. Call to Order / Introductions / Recognition of Visitors

Meeting was called to order at 10:02.

II. Clerk & minutes


III. Updates

Mikaela Simms announced that October 6 will be a Working Towards Justice celebration at BUHS. They are seeking organizations to present workshops 8:45-1:20. Juniper Creative Arts, an organization that collaborates with youth to create murals, will be a part of the celebration, and Ms. Simms has applied for grant funding to finance JCA doing a several week project to create an exterior mural at BUHS that will include all students.

DS shared that the Policy and Amendment Committee worked more on Policy D1: Personnel Recruitment, Selection, Appointment and Background Checks at their September 5 meeting and it’s coming up for a first reading by the board at the next meeting on September 12.

TM inquired about the curriculum diversity audit that is in the WSESU Continuous Improvement Plan, intended to help address the achievement gap. Ms. Simms recommended that the staff has some understanding first. To help with staff cohesion, the staff themselves should have their own goals before the audit takes place. Teachers should be encouraged to to think about the goals for equity in their classrooms in relation to the benchmarks. Then the audit can be done as a part of working toward those goals. TM offered to send Ms. Simms information on an organization that might be able to assist with the audit.

IV. Resumes and Diversity questions.

Two of the social justice questions (1. Explain your experience(s) working with historically marginalized groups. What have you learned from this (these) experiences? Include times when you have made mistakes; 2.Describe your framework for equity and social justice in the classroom (or workplace) and its origin,) have been added to applications for certified staff and administrator positions, and the third question (3. Where did you hear about this job posting?) will be included in the interview process. Staff creating the job postings will need to select long answer options for those two questions.

The committee discussed whether, when candidates are presented for hire, the board should see the resumes and answers to the diversity questions for each candidate.

The committee discussed any confidentiality concerns with sharing resumes via email. Mike Kelliher suggested redacting personal information such as home address and contact information. Committee members expressed support for being able to review the resumes before approving hires. RMC wondered if it would be an overstep for the board to ask to review resumes. RMO shared that reviewing the resumes of candidates for hire was a regular practice of the Brattleboro Town School board, and knowing something about the candidates is necessary for the board to be able to do the job of substantively approving hires.

The committee discussed whether it would be helpful for the board to see the whole application in addition to the responses to the diversity questions. Mike Kelliher and Mikaela Simms clarified that school spring applications can be extremely lengthy with many pages of transcripts, certifications, references, etc. As the intention is to center equity in the hiring process, it was agreed that the board reviewing the diversity question responses in particular would put emphasis on that in the interview and selection process. RMC emphasized that if there is concern raised by candidates responses to the diversity questions, there should be follow up on that in the interview process.

Mr. Kelliher shared that he has had success with instituting the use of job boards such as Indeed, and has been able to hire a BIPOC teacher already this year. He is still trying to fill some paraeducator positions. He is hoping to create a recruiting calendar that includes a formalized strategy month by month. The district’s hiring strategy will also include outreach to key colleges with diverse student populations, minority-focused publications, social media to capture the attention of candidates in and beyond the Brattleboro area. Springfield Mass, Holyoke, Northampton are not too far away and WSESU salaries are competitive with these other markets.

V. How to support Paraprofessionals and retain current staff.

EN expressed the importance of not just expanding our hiring pool but also retaining diverse staff. If staff members who hold marginalized identities feel they are not respected or seen as valuable, or receive a lot of microagressions, they will leave for other places where the culture is better. For paras, who are the most diverse sector of our staff, their pay rate is low and they are only hired for 32 hours so they are not able to earn full-time salary.

Ms. Simms shared that there is a move in the state to professionalize paraeducators and hopefully raise the pay. It’s challenging because they are only paid for the school day. They don’t have extra hours that the teachers have. They don’t attend staff meetings at most schools – they are invited but not required. Paras are included in staff orientation day activities, and the new hires participated enthusiastically. There would be value in having paras join the staff meetings on a regular basis. DS added that coaches and other athletic staff should also be included in this effort.

The committee discussed ways the board could deepen support for paras, such as paying them for the additional time to attend meetings and trainings outside their normal work schedule, and seeking their input on the panorama survey. Mr. Kelliher agreed that staff retention is very important. He talked about the educational standards for paras and he hopes

to map out a career pathway for them in this district. DS raised the idea of requiring all staff to attend trainings and staff meetings. TM suggested that this could be a policy question. The district does have policies that require all staff to complete some trainings, such as the Erin’s Law/Act I training.

VI. Topics we would like to focus on this year

TM mentioned the Agency of Education’s framework for Continuous Improvement Plans that help districts determine needs based on data and follow that with measurable interventions that provide opportunity for assessment of their success.

EN shared concern about the results of the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey that the board recently received, which asked about issues like bullying, school climate, and safety.

DS emphasized the need to enable the board’s role in oversight, governance and policy as part of a collaborative team with administration. RMO suggested that the committee identify areas of concern and invite administrators to provide updates.

RMC asked about exploring how the budget is supporting social justice goals and making recommendations. She also raised the issue of how climate justice intersects with social justice. She acknowledged that the pace of the budget cycle can be a slow way to institute change but it is an opportunity to think strategically about how students, faculty and staff are being served by the budget in relation to social justice goals. DS reminded attendees of the upcoming Finance Committee meeting next Tuesday September 12 at 5pm, right before the WSESD meeting, and encouraged people to attend.

RMO suggested inviting administrators to present or provide written information on how their proposed budget supports our district’s social justice goals. RMC wondered whether the Programmatic and Performance Equity committee might be able to collect responses and look at them across the district to see if there is equity regarding investments at each school.
The committee discussed inviting collaboration with Leadership Councils on this.The board could invite LCs to put it on their agendas to have the principal present to the LC about how their budget supports social justice goals at their school and LC members can give feedback about that which will be reported back to the board by the board rep.
EN asked about considering inclusion and equity for disabled and neurodivergent students.
RM noted the existence of the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee that focuses on this and suggested that a board member attend their meetings and make sure that their work is supported and discussed at the board level. EN mentioned the parent survey that was recently conducted for IEP students and suggested that the board should view the results.
TM mentioned the low availability of drivers ed instructors as an equity issue. The high cost of private driving instruction is a huge barrier to a necessary life skill for students who aren’t able to get into the class. DS also noted the need for at least one full time staff member in the Restorative Justice Coordinator position.

VII. Next missions and goals to focus on

RMO appreciated how effective this committee has been so far with a narrow focus and would like to continue to focus on diversifying the staff and take up some of the other topics raised in this meeting: staff retention, supporting paras in their career path, and prioritizing the budget to support social justice goals. EN added supporting inclusion of paras in trainings and staff meetings.

The committee decided to cancel the October meeting due to availability. The next meeting will be on November 2.

There was a discussion of board participation on the committee – Shaun Murphy is listed as a member but that may be a miscommunication. RMO said she would check in with Shaun. The committee agreed that having an additional member would be helpful and if Shaun does not wish to participate, will propose adding DS as an official member.
VIII. Adjourn
The meeting was adjourned at 11:53.

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