A new position is being created at McCracken County Schools to promote and drive diversity initiatives, spurred in part by Black Lives Matter protests in the region over the summer.
The job posting published this week on the school district’s employment website states in part that the “Outreach and Diversity Coordinator” will help recruit diverse faculty and staff to the district, be a resource for faculty and students in creating diversity-minded curriculum, serve as a liaison with communities of color, and “respond to diversity and equity-related issues among the student body as they arise.”
McCracken County Schools Assistant Superintendent Michael Ceglinski said as Black Lives Matter protests were taking place months ago including in Paducah, district leadership began to reflect on how best to serve all of their students.
“We look around and we are predominantly white. When we sit and reflect on that, do a lot of our decisions come out of our culture and our backgrounds? And the answer to that is probably, yes,” Ceglinksi said. “How do we serve our minority students, African-American students, and do that in a way that the decisions that we make and the opportunities that we provide reflect everybody, reflect all the kids that are in our school district?”
Ceglinski said the position was created after conversations with minority faculty and staff, and after seeing what other institutions like universities have done. He believes this position can move the district forward in several ways as the district re-examines its long-term approach to education. Ceglinski added the position would incorporate diversity along more aspects than just race, including nationality, socioeconomic class, religion, and the LGBTQ community.
He said the district didn’t reach out to the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP chapter in the creation of this position, but said he would welcome the chapter and other groups’ feedback as what the position could do is “fluid.”
“We may be building this plane and flying it at the same time,” Ceglinski said. “This will change as we get into the position and see that we may need to tweak this and do more of this or less of this. And those conversations, I think will be had and be fruitful.”
Ceglinksi said the ongoing situation and subsequent protests surrounding a resurfaced photo of the Paducah Public Schools superintendent in blackface didn’t influence creation of the position. He said McCracken County Schools didn’t want to delay their efforts “because of what’s happening across town.”
Stacey Thomas, a Black woman, has been with the district for almost eight years as director of the Mustangs Youth Services Center at McCracken County High School.
She said while she doesn’t believe the ongoing controversy at Paducah Public Schools had any bearing on this position, she said the situation validates the need for such a position at McCracken County Schools.
“The position is designed not just as a knee jerk reaction, but also as a sincere hope that we could be a district that would foster inclusion of people of color,” Thomas said. “I know as a Black woman dealing with a lot of kids of color, when you walk around the halls in a school that has over 2,000 students and you very rarely see faculty or administration that look like you, that is something that I've grown to know that we need.”
She said living in western Kentucky, the focus on diversity issues often is portrayed as “Black and white,” while the reality of diversity encompasses many more aspects of a person’s identity and background.
“It's not just about a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It's about restructuring a structure that has been set up that does not always include people of color or people with other diverse backgrounds,” she said.
Thomas said it’s going to take “hard conversations” and leadership by principals and teachers, with guidance from this new coordinator, to make the progress the district is seeking.
According to state data, students and teachers at McCracken County Schools tend to be whiter compared to state averages.
As of 2019, about 25% of Kentucky public school students were minority, while about 16% of students are minority at McCracken County Schools. About 5% of Kentucky public school teachers are minority, while only about 1% of teachers are minority at McCracken County Schools. Only four teachers identified as a race or ethnicity other than white out of 410 total teachers in the school district.