New Paltz’s Racial Equity Initiative:
A Component of the District’s Quest for Cultural Proficiency
The New Paltz Central School District is committed to ensuring that all students receive the best possible education in a safe, secure, stimulating—and welcoming—learning environment. This commitment is offered to every child, regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender identity/sexual orientation.
While the diversity of the New Paltz Central School District is one of our strengths, the melding into our school community of so many unique individuals has not been without challenges. Several years ago, a disturbing incident—involving the exchange of racial slurs between two students—occurred at one of our schools. Wishing to determine whether this was an isolated incident or part of a more widespread problem, the District invited the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to the New Paltz Central School District. During the two-day exercise, called SPIRIT (Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together), the DOJ found that some students experienced issues related not only to race, but also socioeconomic status and, and to a lesser extent, religion.
This incident, along with the feedback given from the DOJ, started the District on a journey to explore options to improve equity in our schools. Although the District is committed to addressing a range of diversity-related issues that may impact a child’s education, racial equity was made a priority.
Our Racial Equity Initiative is part of the District’s quest for cultural proficiency, a concept laid out in Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders, by Randall Lindsey, Kikanza Nuri-Robins, and Raymond D. Terrell.
Cultural proficiency has been defined as “the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, spiritual traditions, immigration status, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each” (The National Association of Social Workers, Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice).
In November 2016, an Action Plan for Racial Equity and Creating a Culturally Proficient District was developed, providing a framework to identify the work needed. The Action Plan is in draft format as we continue to explore the complexities of racial equity and allow our work to evolve to meet current needs. The plan will be continually revised based on data, research, and available information.
A summary of the Racial Equity Initiative, as outlined in the District’s Action Plan, includes the following:
- Addressing Institutional Racism by Creating a Culture of Racial and Cultural Proficiency: As a District, we aim to learn about, and use, tools that will help ensure that any personal biases we may have do not interfere with student learning. This work focuses on both students and staff and also goes beyond interpersonal aspects of relationships and specifically addresses the policies, practices, values, and procedures of our school system to ensure they are aligned with the needs of all students.
- Creating a Comprehensive K-12 Racial Equity Curriculum and Implementation of Related Instructional Practices: We plan to integrate a racial equity curriculum into our Social Studies instruction and to expand it, as feasible, into our Humanities classes, and to ensure our faculty and staff have the knowledge and confidence to be effective in its delivery.
- Creating a Professional Development Program: We are providing professional development to our entire staff, starting with our instructional staff members, to equip them with tools to promote racial equity. Ultimately, we aim to help our staff and students become proficient in identifying acts of racism, and de-escalating racially charged incidents, including ones that unconsciously or unintentionally express a prejudiced attitude.