Mallory Herrmann

There were a few raised eyebrows at the Lee’s Summit R-7’s Aug. 16 board of education meeting. During an annual program evaluation presentation, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Deborah Delsemme provided a short series of slides about the ethnic makeup of the district. Noting that 75 percent of students enrolled for this school year identified as white, Delsemme shared district plans to promote diversity within the staff, which is 94 percent white.

The district has a goal to attract and retain quality staff while increasing gender and ethnic diversity by 10 percent each year. “We haven’t met that mark yet,” Delsemme said. “We’re still working, still striving.”

The 10 percent goal was created as part of the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP), a five-year strategic plan that was adopted in 2016 as “Destination 2021.” It was revised and unanimously approved by the board in July 2017. Among the steps that are being taken toward that goal, Delsemme said the HR department is opening up partnerships and having conversations with more diverse community organizations and in the recruitment of student teachers, as well as advertising (electronically and in print) with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Julie Doane, board member, took the opportunity to stress multiple times her hope that the school district was pursuing diversity beyond black teachers and staff – specifically persons of Asian and Indian descent.

“Are we, um, reaching out for … Asian and … um, people from India, I mean, just,” Doane gestured with air quotes, “all walks of life?”

Dr. Dennis Carpenter, superintendent of the district, added the particular importance of hiring African American staff in Lee’s Summit.

“When you look at our student population, you have to be mindful of the fact that your second largest population of students are African American students,” Carpenter said. “And they are the most underrepresented in terms of their teaching staff when you look at that number. That’s your second largest group of kids.”

Delsemme’s data indicates that 13 percent of the student population (and less than 4 percent of district staff) is black. Part of her presentation included a short video from NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz, who detailed studies that show having even just one black teacher can promote the “role model effect,” increasing high school graduation rates among black students by 39 percent and generally benefitting students of all racial backgrounds.

“The Human Resources annual report last month was very informative,” Carpenter later commented to the Tribune. “In addition to our human capital successes, it continued to shed research-based, student-centered light on our district’s need to be more representative in our overall staffing.”

The Tribune sent a list of follow-up questions to Doane to clarify her position on this topic.

• It was clear from the presentation that the percentages of black, Hispanic and mixed-race children has increased in the past ten years, but the percentage of teachers who are black, Hispanic and mixed race has not, except for, due to the recruitment contract, increased until June 2018. You raised questions about Indian and Asian teachers, but there was no trend showing an increase in those students. Why did you directly call out those two racial categories?

• You were on the LSR7 Board of Education when Dr. Miller issued the RFP to hire someone to begin to recruit a more diverse group of qualified teachers. Did you raise concerns about that RFP? If so, when and in what manner (board meeting date or emails)? If you raised concerns, why did you do so?

• Do you object to the results that were reported on at the August 2018 LSR7 board meeting?

• Do you object to boosting the number of qualified LSR7 teachers who are black, Hispanic or mixed race? Please let us know when and in what manner (board meeting date or emails).

• There is research demonstrating that kids who are black, Hispanic or mixed race perform better when a teacher of color is in their building. Do you agree or disagree with this conclusion?

• The research on our district also shows that black children will never be able to see the achievement gap close. What are you doing to see that the achievement gap closes?

• Are underachieving white children of concern to you?

• Other than Lee’s Summit Cares, how do you engage in the community with the underprivileged or underserved in our community?

• Do you see a racial divide in the community?

She declined the opportunity to respond to them but provided the following statement:

“I raised the question not an objection, only to know why just African American students. I used the Asian and Indian population as examples and probably they popped into my head as I have many friends of both Asian and Indian descent, as well as African American. The world is becoming more diverse so we should expect Lee’s Summit to follow that pattern. I was taught that respect (my favorite word by the way) should be at the forefront of every human being. I will keep asking questions at the dias [sic] when I have questions, it really is that simple. So continue to attend BOE meetings. As far as the hiring of teachers, I will continue to challenge our district to hire THE most qualified. I have been known to be a very competitive person so it should not be a surprise that I want ALL students to achieve at the highest level possible.”

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 25.