Madison County, Berea find new way to register children for kindergarten

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Diane Hatchett, superintendent for Berea Community Schools.

Shortly before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Berea Community School Superintendent Diane Hatchett wrote a message to her district which quoted the late civil rights activist.

"I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits."

"These are profound words for which we should all take a moment to ponder and strive for," Hatchett wrote in her message.

The superintendent is certainly striving to do just that in her school district.

Last summer, the school system adopted an Anti-Racism and Cultural Inclusion resolution which was passed unanimously by the school board in July.

The school system is also currently undergoing an equity audit which will take place in four phases to better address any racial inequities within the district.

A committee is overseeing the effort, which is chaired by Hatchett.

The first committee meeting was held on Aug. 6, 2020.

"Actions speak louder than words," Hatchett said of the work her district is undergoing.

The superintendent said the goal is to establish an equity mindset which considers the different academic, social and emotional needs of all learners in a student centered and culturally responsive and relevant manner.

"Student individuality, cultural identity and voice should always be taken into consideration if we want to achieve greatness. I believe greatness lies within each of our students. It is up to us to tap into their potential and provide tools for success," Hatchett wrote in her message to the district.

As recent events continue to highlight the racial inequity and injustice across the nation, the Berea Community School System has taken on a timely and complicated challenge.

Research indicates students of color lag behind white classmates in academic performance in many of Kentucky's schools. Black students are less likely to be included in gifted and talented programs or advanced placement classes, and they are more likely to be disciplined, suspended, or expelled from school.

The issue isn't just simple equity for students, Roger Cleveland, director of the Center for Research on the Eradication of Educational Disparities at Kentucky State University, said in an interview with KET's "Kentucky Tonight."

For Cleveland, it is important to note the difference between equity and racial equity.

"When we talk about equity, we're talking about access and fairness and things like that for all students," Cleveland said. "Racial equity is making sure that race should not be a barrier to academic success."

Cleveland and his team is conducting the audit at Berea Community.

The first phase consists of a desk audit, the second phase will include interviews with stakeholders such as students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and community members.

According to Hatchett, Cleveland's team will also lead the district in the creation of a district equity policy.

For Hatchett, the idea for the Anti-Racism and Cultural Inclusion resolution came to fruition during a time when the school was planning to move from the virtual-learning model to in-person learning during the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor -- which sparked national outrage and numerous protests.

As an educator, Hatchett said the school system was planning how best to field questions from students about the unrest.

Hatchett said the school board had received statements read and signed by families of students who attended Berea Independent about George Floyd's death. At that time, the superintendent said the board chair suggested to Hatchett she combine what the parents were asking for with her ideas on dealing with the issues and making it into a resolution.

"… Recent events in Kentucky and around the nation… Have shown us, once again, the inequities that exist for people of color. Mass protests are taking place across the country and the world, as people refuse to remain silent or complacent about racial injustice and decades of systemic oppression and abuse," the resolution reads.

The superintendent said the resolution was a collaborative effort with participation from 100 stakeholders; roughly 10% of our population contributed by serving on three committees: academics, operations, health and safety.

The committees were co-chaired by district staff and included teachers, parents and administrators, board members and community leaders.

The Anti-Racism and Cultural Inclusion committee also consists of "parents, teachers, students, counselors, administrators, board members, and community members" in order to speak on anti-racism and cultural inclusion. Equity teams are at each of the schools, in addition to being at the district level.

"We will work to be actively anti-racist and to dismantle systemic racism in our schools and empower people of color; in special education, general, advanced classes; gifted and talented identification and early college opportunities and technical pathway selection," the resolution reads.

That will not be an easy task.

According to information from the Kentucky Department of Education, Black students comprise less than 1% of students in Kentucky's gifted and talented programs or enrolled in advanced placement courses.

In addition to that, many students of color are without educators of their own race.

Nearly 95% of educators in Kentucky schools are white, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

Research from Johns Hopkins University and American University, published in a working paper titled "The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers" by the National Bureau of Economic Research, indicates that test scores are higher for Black students who have teachers of color.

The findings indicate Black students who'd had just one black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college--and those who'd had two Black teachers were 32% more likely.

People of color are also underrepresented in school leadership positions.

Only 10% of principals and 3.5% of superintendents are nonwhite. People of color also comprise only 13% of school board members across the state.

Hatchett, herself is part of that small statistic.

"I didn't see a teacher of color until I got to graduate school," Hatchett said in an interview with KET.

Hatchett said her own journey through the ranks of higher education was not without bias on "Kentucky Tonight."

Hatchett recalled people would question why she wanted to become a principal or superintendent. The tenor of job interviews would suddenly change when hiring panels realized she was Black. However, Hatchett said it's important for educators and administrators of color to be role models for students.

"Somebody has to be a path-setter," she told KET. "It's not easy. You have to get boards to be open to diversity and to not think that you're less qualified because you happen to be African American."

Just this past year, the Berea Independent School District hired two coaches of color to lead its football and boy's basketball programs -- Frank Parks and Ray Valentine.

Hatchett is also determined to make education path easier for younger generations.

The superintendent said the district's current curriculum, policies, and practices could be molded to better combat racism and proactively teach anti-racism --areas the committee are working on adding into the curriculum.

The district has also acknowledged the need for regular professional development and training for "the board, SBDM, district and building-level leaders, teachers, faculty and staff," which would focus on learning about the "inequitable educational systems and developing culturally competent leadership district-wide," the resolution states.

The document includes planned professional development for school and district staff includes race-based equity, implicit bias, anti-inequity, cultural responsiveness, and cultural competency, forming an anti-racist curriculum, addressing SEL to promote and create an anti-racist, safe and healthy, learning space for students.

"Equity is important for all kids," Hatchett said. "That's just something everybody should have. But equity does not mean equality. Not everybody is going to get the same thing. It just means everyone gets what they need to succeed… Regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, religion… We're just fighting for the rights of our kids."

For Hatchett, the push for racial equity in education is a moral obligation.

"A commitment to equity should be a way of life," the superintendent said. "Not something that you wake up and think about as an afterthought or only when you see or hear something disturbing."

"Our kids are going to be the future leaders of the world," Hatchett said. "We have to get them ready to take on all the challenges and things they're going to run into… If we don't teach them that their voice matters, that they matter, then who will?"

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