During Sunday’s Unity Peace Rally held at John Cain Park, those in attendance left with unanswered questions, feeling questions were diverted and not properly answered.
Pam Dean, principal of Park Avenue Elementry, wanted to clarify and answer the question that was asked about hiring PAE assistant principal, Meghan Ables.
During the rally, the question was asked how Ables was chosen for the assistant principal position at PAE and how was it announced before it even went to a vote?
Another concern was after the retirement of Equity Coordinator James O’Neil, there would not be a black school administrator.
Stuttgart School Board President Napolean Davis acknowledged Stuttgart School District Superintendent, Dr. Gales, presence at the rally while he responded to the question.
“When it comes down to hiring personnel, recommendations are made from the superintendent and if there is a committee set up in the interview process, the committee and superintendent meet with the applicants. They come to the school board and they make a recommendation,” said Davis. “As the school board president, all we are authorized to do is to take the recommendations that are made from the superintendent and we vote on the candidates that they recommend and if the majority of the board members vote for that person, then the person is hired. We do not interview, so in many cases, when it comes down to voting, we’re simply voting on people that are recommended.”
In a recent discussion with PAE principal Pam Dean, she wanted to clarify the hiring process stating the hiring panel consisted of Gales, certified teachers of PAE and a Classified PPC.
Each candidate was interviewed and was scored on a rubric scoring system by each panel member.
When asked the race of the panelists, Dean said all were white except one.
With a total of four black teachers during the last school year, Dean ended up losing two, leaving her with only two black teachers for the upcoming school year.
“It’s hard to get applicants,” said Dean.
After everyone turned in their scores Dean said she asked Gales, instead of waiting until the next board meeting, could she go ahead and tell the candidates the outcome to which his reply was yes but the board would still need to answer.
“In some cases the school board itself is not even aware of rather the person who is applying is black or white. We simply take the person which is recommended as the best person for the job and we hire that person,” said Davis during the rally. “I think it’s a wonderful thing when you can get to a position where it does not matter if the person you’re hiring is black or white. All that matters is that they have prepared themselves and they are best qualified for the position that they are applying for.”
Community members felt race did matter when it came to hiring. Many expressed during the rally that there are people of color who were highly qualified to fulfill positions that were given to their constituents.
Gales stated he wishes there were more black administrators because the students need to see that.
“I would love to have more black teachers but unfortunately right now we struggle to get not just in Stuttgart, but in education as a whole, struggling to get certified teachers,” said Gales. “Most of the teachers we are hiring right now are non traditional teachers. Right now we just want to get teachers, regardless of what race they are.”
In February of 2018, PAE participated in a School Culture Audit by Solution Tree which resulted in major discrepancies between black and white students.
PAE received their results from the audit, March of 2018. The report looked at the school culture around two areas, policies, practices and procedures (formal culture) and beliefs and perceptions (informal culture).
PAE lacked the combination and Dean realized that there were areas that needed improvement.
“Alarms started going off and we realized we could do better,” said Dean as she addressed Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education, back in July of 2018.
Dean along with her PAE staff said it was not ok when a certain percentage wasn’t achieving and they were going to do whatever it took so that all children could succeed.
In an interview with the Stuttgart Daily Leader, Jan. of 2019, Dean admitted before the Solution Tree Audit she had no idea what cultural responsiveness teaching was but afterward, she was enlightened.
She said she knew the value and the importance that she needed to make her staff aware and to become more culturally responsive.
“Before Solution Tree we were not aware,” said Dean. “When you know better, you do better and you have to be empathetic to everyone’s background.”
Since the 2018 revelation, Dean said while she can’t speak on the other schools in the district, PAE has taken great strides to improve school culture including but not limited to:
-hiring an additional counselor
-implementing Positive Behavior Intervention
-having honest conversations with faculty and staff about current reality
-parent round tables
-culturally responsive resources for teachers and books for students
-culturally responsive teaching which recognizes the importance of including students cultural references in all aspects of learning.
“The goal is to help students develop a positive self-image and learn to embrace the differences of others,” said Dean.
Dean also shared the progress from the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 school year stating the numbers have improved. There was an 18 percent decrease in discipline and student’s attendance in school increased.
Dean said this past year, even though it was cut short, they totaled 78 referrals, which was 42 less than last year.
“Also, a part of discipline that people don’t know is it could be five kids that have the majority of the referrals but it’s counted each time,” said Dean.
“We are doing work and I just wanted to say that,” said Dean.
Davis said all problems should be directed to the principal first. If the problem persists, the next chain of command would be the superintendent.
If an issue needs to come before the board, Davis said citizens should call the administrative building to get on the agenda but advises that all matters should be heard by the superintendent first.
All principals are open to community concerns and are available by contacting their school office.
“The schools are in the community,” said Davis during the rally. “We have to address problems on every level that there are and by addressing the problems and dealing honestly with the problems, we can do something about the problem.”