Brattleboro schools seek more applicants of color

Staff retention starts before the job interview, consultant tells school board

BRATTLEBORO — The Town School Board recently signed a short-term contract with the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity to help recruit more people of color to education positions.

The supervisory union is seeking to fill the principal position at Oak Grove School, as well as three teacher jobs in Brattleboro.

Approximately 20 percent of the student body in Brattleboro's town schools are children of color, Board Chair David Schoales told The Commons.

“We have children who don't see people who look like them among our school employees, and that's a disservice,” Schoales said at the April 17 school board meeting. “We're not meeting their needs.”

At the meeting, the board approved contracting with the Partnership for up to $6,000 to focus on recruitment for the principal and three teacher positions.

The Partnership has provided similar services to Burlington, Rutland and, most recently, Bennington.

The nonprofit has also participated in the hiring process for the town of Brattleboro's new human resources director [story, this issue].

David Schoales invited Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership, to the meeting to discuss how the supervisory union can do a better job of recruiting people of color.

“Retention starts before you post your job announcement,” Reed said, adding that a good recruitment process will determine if a candidate stays in the community.

The process must “cultivate a need to nest in Brattleboro at the point they're reading the job announcement,” he added.

Reed told the board that the Partnership could help in the short term, but that attracting more people of color to the area would require a culture shift - and that such a shift would require a long-term commitment from the school system.

A person of color can take a job in Brattleboro, Reed said, but if the new hire arrives in town to find “a workforce of knuckleheads,” the person will leave again.

Reed suggested that the school board establish an advisory committee that can focus on creating an environment of inclusivity, a long-term process that could take several years.

Issue 'core' to the schools

Members of the school board agreed with the need for a long-term commitment. One complication, however, is that sans a legislative or judicial intervention, the Town School Board will cease to exist on July 1 when the new merged school district subsumes the current separate educational legal entities.

So while the board members expressed commitment, what form a future committee will take remains a work in progress.

Board member Andy Davis noted that the merger shouldn't worry the current board, which could commit to creating an advisory committee.

School boards don't question that the football program, or an arts class, or other pieces of the curriculum that will exist from one year to the next, he said.

They don't question these things because boards have already decided they're core to the students' education, Davis continued.

Similarly, a commitment to creating an inclusive environment would also be core to a students' education and well-being, he said.

A moral imperative - and an economic opportunity

Past recruitment efforts haven't worked, Schoales later said in an interview with The Commons, because the efforts have been led by “white people trying to understand what attracts people of color.”

For him, recruiting more people of color to work in the school system is a moral imperative to better serve Brattleboro's students.

Reed takes a different tack, telling the school board that attracting more people of color to Vermont is about economic development.

Sixteen years ago, Reed said, he looked at the demographic shifts happening in the United States and saw a “considerable opportunity for the state if it played its cards right”: that people of color would be Vermont's next market.

For Vermont to survive economically, however, it will need to tap into a market it has long ignored, one that doesn't know Vermont exists, Reed added.

Reed said his experience living all over the world has led him to determine that “15 percent of the world's population are knuckleheads.”

The remaining 85 percent of the world, however, is doing something outstanding and contributing to humanity, he said.

And many of those people live in Vermont, noted Reed, who called the state “an easy pick,” given its work around issues such as social and racial justice and the environment.

The state also offers a high quality of life and safety, and “lives on a human scale,” he said.

He described Brattleboro as the multicultural venue in southeastern Vermont and noted its easy commute to and from metropolitan areas such as New York City and Boston.

Reed explained that the Partnership is in year 16 of a 40-year initiative.

The 20,000-foot vision is one where the state becomes the most desirable destination for people of color, whether they interact as consumers, tourists, venture capitalists, or outdoor enthusiasts.

And the 30,000-foot vision?

That's where Vermont “has become the model for inclusive practice in the United States,” Reed said.

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