Shawnee Mission School District leaders have pledged in recent days to tackle systemic racism and provide opportunities for every child.
But the district’s well-crafted messages haven’t been backed up with a real commitment to diversity in the teaching and administrative ranks.
People of color in teaching and administrative roles are a slim minority in the Shawnee Mission School District. And a lack of diversity among teachers and administrators prevents the district from offering equitable education opportunities to all students.
While Shawnee Mission’s student population has become more diverse in recent years, faculty and staff have remained predominantly white.
During the 2018-19 school year, more than 27% of Shawnee Mission’s nearly 27,500 K-12 students were Hispanic or Black. Some 90% of faculty were white.
A number of key indicators show stark disparities between Black and Hispanic students in the district and their white peers.
The graduation rate for Black students was 84.5%, while 92% of their white students graduated. Hispanic students had an 84.2% graduation rate.
Only 5.6% of Black students and 12.8% of Hispanic students in the graduating class of 2019 took the ACT college entrance exam. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of white students did. The average score for white students was 24.4; 18.3 for Black students; and 20.4 for Hispanic students.
In the aftermath of nationwide protests denouncing the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Michael Fulton sent a letter to stakeholders.
He wrote that recent events were “stark reminders that we still have much work to do to address systemic racism, inequities, and disparities that exist in our country.” But Fulton’s message was devoid of any meaningful reforms to address those disparities, said Anisha Jackson, a parent of a child in the district.
“Diversity and inclusion is our future,” Fulton told The Star Editorial Board. “We’ve taken very specific action steps.”
Shawnee Mission schools have invested in cultural proficiency training, hired a diversity and inclusion coordinator and started recruiting potential teachers at historically black colleges and universities.
An initiative to develop a diverse workforce is underway. The Grow Our Own program for minority students will take years to fully implement, though.
Those are steps in the right direction. But the Shawnee Mission School District’s executive leadership team remains nearly all-white.
An all-white, all-male administrative staff will lead Shawnee Mission West High School next year, according to district data.
No minorities were expected to be part of the administrative staffs at Shawnee Mission East and Shawnee Mission South high schools.
Shawnee Mission North will include one person of color in its upper-level staff.
One Black man and one Hispanic woman will be in administrative roles at Shawnee Mission Northwest.
At the middle school level, there were no administrators of color expected on staff during the next school year.
Incredibly, the Shawnee Mission school board has never included a person of color.
Brad Stratton, who is in his fifth year as a board member, announced last week that he would not seek re-election when his term expires in 2023. To his credit, Stratton highlighted the lack of diversity on the board and pledged to grow a list of diverse candidates to succeed him on the district’s all-white school board. He challenged his colleagues to mentor other minority candidates.
Will others follow?
“There is a need for leadership of all kinds at all levels,” Stratton told The Star Editorial Board.
Tackling systemic racism and inequality is tough but essential work. If Shawnee Mission school leaders are serious about educating all students, then they must follow up promises with substantive action.