Diversity: One District’s Journey

Tony Cardamone, Director of Elementary Curriculum & Instruction, Baldwinsville CSD
SAANYS Executive Committee

Districts around the state and country have been facing the challenges of an ever-changing student body. More than ever, students are coming from diverse backgrounds that are often different from the leaders and teachers who are responsible for their learning and development. Our district is facing this challenge, too. I have been fortunate to be a teacher and administrator in the Baldwinsville Central School District for more than 25 years.

Bville (our local shorthand for our district’s name) is a suburban district located just outside of Syracuse in Central New York. Bville has approximately 5500 students from kindergarten to twelfth grade in eight buildings. We are the third largest suburban public school system in Onondaga County, covering approximately 75 square miles. About 900 instructional and support staff work for the district.

From the outside, our district looks like many other suburban school districts in CNY. Yet, just like any other district we are facing the needs of a changing, diverse student population.

The 2018-19 breakdown of our students is: 88.2 percent White, 4.2 percent Hispanic/Latino, 4.4 percent Multi-racial, 1.9 percent Black or African American, 1.1 percent Asian/Native Hawaiian & Other Pacific Islander. Our students with disabilities rate in 2007 was 11 percent, as of 2018 it was 15 percent. Our economically disadvantaged students rate in 2007 was 13 percent and in 2018 it was up to 29 percent. Many educators and leaders around the state will probably look at these figures and fare better, while others would have much higher numbers.

These figures only reflect one aspect of our community. We all know the diversity of our student population is represented by more than these statistics. Students are coming from diverse families, many with learning/social emotional needs, and dealing with the impact of technology in their daily lives.

Our district is like your district. We face the same challenges.

Our superintendent, Mr. Matthew J. McDonald has led us on a quest to not only explore the needs and challenges of our students, but to embrace their diversity in all its forms. Central to this is the belief that diversity is not just the color of one’s skin, but much more. His goal is for all students to have a personal connection with each other and with adults throughout each building. This has led our district to look at diversity from many angles. Some of our learning has led to the following:

  • Embracing Inclusion of all Students: Our special education department has worked to provide solid inclusive education throughout our district. This has required the support of our Board of Education and community so we could provide the necessary special education staff in k-12 co-teaching settings. It has also led us to foster a partnership with Syracuse University to support our professional learning in this area.
  • Identifying and Supporting Students’ Social Emotional Learning: Our district has instituted the use of BIMAS (Behavior Intervention Monitoring & Assessment System) as part of our academic screening process, annually. This information helps building-based teams to identify each school year the SEL needs of students. The district has also increased school-based SEL supports via school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, and school-based community mental health agencies. Most recently, we have added deans of students in two of our elementary buildings with a focus on restorative practices. This summer, all eight buildings sent administrators and teacher teams to restorative practices professional learning. And this fall, a team of administrators is attending Brian Mendler’s workshop “Motivating and Managing the Hard to Reach Students.” These tools and techniques help to equip our staff with the skills needed to support our students’ SEL development and challenges.
  • Creating a Culture that Embraces Diversity: Our district has been a leader with the Positivity Project (P2) in our schools. This is based on the belief that relationships are the cornerstone of health, happiness, and resilience. P2 (www.posproject.org) equips schools with the training, strategy, and resources to inspire students to build positive relationships. Teams at each school have been trained in restorative practices and use morning meetings to develop cultures that proactively manage conflict while building positive relationships.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching: This year, a group of secondary teachers participated in a book study with our secondary curriculum director around the book Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom, by Matthew R. Kay. The goal of their work was to raise their own awareness of the biases we all bring into the classroom and how to facilitate discussions with students around the topic of race.

This year, I am proud to be a member of our district’s new Diversity Committee. This group has representation from instructional and non-instructional staff, administrators, parents/families, students, and community members. It is being facilitated by Derrick L. Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey is the past executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse and was most recently the director of the community wide dialogue to end racism for InterFaith Works of Central New York. He is also on the Board of Education for the Syracuse City School District.

Our initial charge as a committee this fall is to define diversity, create a mission statement, and set goals. This will be presented to the board of education in January 2020 with full implementation in the spring of 2020. This will include any revised curriculum and presentations to staff, students, families, and community members.

Baldwinsville Central School District, just one of over 950 districts in New York State, but like all of you, we are on the journey of understanding and embracing the diversity of our students and community—however that may look.