Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Our Staff and Intentional Diversity

By Osvaldo Jose Martí, Middle School 2 Founding Head of School. 

       Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy is an intentionally diverse network of public charter schools. When you read that statement, it’s safe to assume that you are likely thinking of our student body. Nationally, while our student population becomes more diverse, our country's teacher and administrative workforce remains remarkably stagnant. In Rhode Island, we are no exception and mirror the nation in terms of this gap. Meanwhile, research has shown that teachers of color produce more favorable outcomes for students of similar backgrounds. Additionally, there is an emotional and social need that teachers of color can provide while serving as role models to scholars who share racial and ethnic identities. Moreover, the Atlantic reported on the importance of a diverse school not just for students of color, but also for white students.

       For these reasons and so many more, I believe it’s important for our BVP school staff to reflect the communities we work with. As we strive for this, we work to build robust talent pools, with a focus on candidates of color and varied backgrounds. As an incoming Head of School and person of color, it goes without saying that our commitment to diversity is important to me. Even so, the urgency of this work was underscored for me one early morning at Elementary School 2.

       On this particular day, I had spent the morning doing instructional rounds, popping into classrooms and providing feedback to our teachers. As I walked the halls I came upon a teacher with a 2nd grade scholar who was walking to their classroom. The teacher cheerfully introduced me to the scholar, “In three years, Mr. Martí will be your principal just like Ms. Colarusso is now.” Full of innocence, the scholar looked at me and said,
Wait, how can you be a principal? You’re black.
       The comment shocked me. This young, African-American boy had not yet encountered a leader who shared his background and so the idea of someone who looked like him rising to a leadership position was impossible to him.

       I explained to the scholar that I was black and Dominican. I also explained to him that I was fluent in Spanish, but that those details did not mean I couldn't be a principal. I then told him that he could be anything he dreamed. This interaction has stayed with me since then and reminds me why we focus on intentional diversity. A general lack of diversity in schools can manifest itself in many ways. For the little boy I met in the hallway, a lack of diversity meant he couldn't see a black man be principal and likely also meant, as a black boy, he couldn't see himself ever being principal either.

       Conversations about race are not comfortable or easy, but they must be had if we are going to help our scholars see their potential and understand the world around them. It’s our responsibility and part of our commitment as educators who strive to thoroughly prepare children for their future.

       I am committed to this work and if you feel as passionately as I do, I invite you to consider joining me. Be a role model. Be the reason a scholar believes in himself or herself. Be part of a team that makes a difference. To see our current listing of open positions, click here.

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