Teachers and Staff Challenge District Leadership on Racism and Hiring


Amherst Regional Middle School. Photo: Toni Cunningham

Teachers and staff continue to call attention to ongoing racism in the schools and question the search for a middle school principal. During public comment at the February 13 Amherst School Committee and February 27 Regional School Committee meetings, several staff members decried the persistence of unequal treatment of Black employees, and the Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA) Executive Board recently crafted a 10-point Call to Action demanding that the district address the racism that persists in the schools. 

At the February 13 Amherst School Committee meeting, Amherst Regional Middle School teacher Meka Magee introduced the APEA’s Call to Action. She said, “I would like to call your attention to the hostile working conditions that myself and other Black staff members face. I hope the school committee takes the high road and recognizes the hardships that Blacks and other marginalized groups continue to suffer without support and are often ignored, while racist individuals become bolder because they realize they will face no consequences. Today, we are letting you know we have had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore. We demand respect and to work in a physically and emotionally safe environment.”

The APEA’s demands are:

  1.  Commitment to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of African American staff, including administrators.
  2. Investigation by an independent investigator, agreed upon by the district and the union, into racial discrimination against staff of color in the district.
  3. Staff, including administrators, found to have racially discriminated against other staff and/or students, be reprimanded and undergo continuous training with periodic reviews until specified goals related to anti-racism are met.
  4. Budget of $50,000 set aside for programming related to mentoring and support for African American staff and students. An additional $50,000 set aside for all staff of color.
  5. Committee of African American staff and students formed to design programming for mentoring and support. An ALANA committee formed to design programming for staff of color.
  6. School committee policy mandating anti-racism training for school committee members, district administrators and staff.
  7. Inclusion of African American staff on all hiring committees.  
  8. Creation of an Office of Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging and appointment of a Chief Equity Officer and staff to do the continuous work of dismantling institutional racism and discrimination against marginalized communities.
  9. An African American studies curriculum that is required for all students from grade 6-12.
  10.  An African American studies curriculum committee, which includes students, to design the curriculum.

During public comment at  the February 27 Regional School Committee meeting, staff member Georgia Malcolm said, “I want to talk about race. You guys are not taking it seriously that there is an attack on Black people in this district. We have an amazing AD [athletic director] who went home early today because she received a troubling email from people attacking her. We, as Black people, know we are held to a higher standard, and people want to attack and call into question people’s integrity. The problem is systemic. Amherst is a cesspool. We’re trying to raise the alarm because Amherst is going downhill very fast. We do not want you to blame the Black people. You guys are not paying attention. There is a problem in Amherst. We’re asking the superintendent to hire an HR Director, and he’s ignoring us. There’s no money in the district, but he hired a white man to oversee the Black people. It doesn’t make sense. We need to do a forensic accounting. Follow the money, because some tricky stuff is happening in this district.”

Mangala Jagadeesh, second grade teacher at Wildwood, said, “What happened at the middle school last year was just the most recent manifestation of troublesome leadership that had been in place for at least five years before this incident came to light. The school district has not addressed the systemic issues that made what happened possible, and these things need to be addressed now by the school committee and by the interim superintendent. These are not issues that we can wait years to hope that they will get better. We need to make the district a place where the new superintendent has a chance [to succeed]. I’m looking to you, school committee, to help make that happen, because the oversight that needs to be in place is not in place. Georgia [Malcolm] just mentioned one thing, but there is so much more. You need to take a more active role in what is going on financially, what the administration is doing, and how that goes down to the teachers and students. It is not being addressed now, and is being swept under the rug.”

Alex Lopez, parent and paraeducator at Summit Academy said, “It really is shocking to me, hearing what people are talking about. Every day I see the incredible work our students and staff do in confronting issues of racism, oppression, inequities in our everyday lives. In just the brief conversation we’ve had about our leadership, our administration, about the priorities that are being set,we are failing, if we are struggling with the issues of race, gender, sexuality, and keeping our students and staff safe. You are about to be presented with a choice [of] if we want to get better or go backwards.”

APEA Criticizes Middle School Principal Search Committee for Lack of Input from Educators
The following public comments concerning the ongoing Middle School Principal search were offered at the Regional School Committee meeting on February 27.

Middle School teacher Irene Laroche said  she is pleased at the care that is being taken in the superintendent search,but asked the school committee to look into the hiring practices for the middle school principal. She said that these “highly problematic” practices have been in place for many years. She called attention to a letter sent from the APEA on February 12, that noted that only two staff members from the middle school are on the hiring committee. (The committee is mostly composed of administrators, many from the central office who have little contact with teachers or students.) She added that staff members were not even consulted about interview questions—nothing regarding middle school needs, nothing regarding pedagogy, nothing regarding what happened at our school last year, or over the past few years with failed administration, and said, “It is alarming to me that the search is happening as if everything has been fine.”

The letter from the APEA is posted below. As of February 27, there has been no response to the concerns from the administration, and the interview process has begun. 

From the APEA: February 12, 2024

Dear Interim Superintendent Dr. Slaughter, Regional School Committee members, Amherst School Committee members, and Pelham School Committee members, 

The ARMS Principal Search Interview Committee is composed of an imbalance of central office administrators. Considering the incredible difficulty in finding stable leadership at the Middle School over the past decade, we find it shocking that only two ARMS staff members are part of the interview committee. We believe the committee should be composed of at least six ARMS staff (1 core teacher, 1 special education teacher, 1 exploratory teacher, 1 world language teacher, 1 school adjustment or guidance counselor, and 1 paraeducator), two administrators (HR administrator and a school based administrator), and two parents (one of which has a student currently at ARMS. The ARMS staff representatives on the committee should also be diverse and include at least one African American member. Our staff of professionals should be able to use democratic process to decide who they want to represent them on this committee. The current makeup of the committee ensures that the staff at ARMS have very little say in determining the leadership in their own building. This has obviously been a problem in the past and has led to constant instability. Furthermore, the staff who work in the building, the professionals in middle school education, should have the greatest input in who they believe is best to lead. The finalists may then be brought before a committee of central office administrators and yourself for review. In the past, leaders selected by committees stacked with central office staff have led to instability and no confidence votes by the APEA. Please consider allowing your staff to have the greatest input in who they want to lead them. They will be more willing to support a leader of their choosing and less likely to seek new leadership or a no confidence vote. The lack of thought into the leadership in the Middle School has been a public embarrassment for the district and the wonderful and dedicated staff at ARMS. 1 The APEA is requesting to meet with Superintendent Slaughter this week to discuss the composition of the Middle School principal search interview committee before interviews begin. We would like for this to be a collaborative process. 

APEA Executive Board APEA Representative Council

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1 thought on “Teachers and Staff Challenge District Leadership on Racism and Hiring

  1. What will be very telling is whether white parents will show up to support this. Without that support, the issue will be seen as only an issue for black families and black teachers.

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