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Kirkwood schools look to speed up staff diversity training after blackface controversy

Kirkwood High School increased the number of students taking AP tests last school year by about 200, largely through encouraging more students of color to enroll.
File photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio
Kirkwood High School increased the number of students taking AP tests last school year by about 200, largely through encouraging more students of color to enroll.

The Kirkwood School District is hoping to speed up plans for comprehensive staff diversity training in the wake of controversy over blackface at the high school last month.

The district’s racial equity plan created last school year originally called for the training to take place during the 2017 - 2018 school year.

Right now the specifics of the training and when it will be held aren’t known.

Assistant Superintendent Bryan Painter coordinated the equity task force. “We’re exploring some possibilities," he said. "Best case scenario, we have staff training from people on the outside who can come in and support us. We know we can’t afford that right now. We just don’t have the resources. And to do it well with this many teachers would cost thousands of dollars we unfortunately don’t have right now.”

Painter presented an updated version of the equity plan at the Kirkwood school board meeting Monday night following more than an hour of public comments addressing the blackface incident and its aftermath.

Painter said the task force is looking for people willing to help write grants and find donors for the training. Otherwise the district will try to piece together limited training from partnerships and free online sources.

“There are lots of groups around here that maybe we could do some piecemeal sort of work that isn’t the comprehensive training we know we need to do but at least continues the conversation we’ve been having over the last couple of years,” Painter said.

Asked about issues brought up last month when two white students spread charcoal on their face, including supporting students of color when they share something they’ve experienced, and increasing knowledge of African American history, Painter said that would need to be addressed in training of both staff and students.

Painter also said high school administrators have had internal discussions about the matter.  

“They’ve debriefed it. They’ve talked about how they can support their kids in better ways. There’s nobody who wishes this hadn’t happened more than those people who were directly involved,” Painter said.

Kirkwood’s racial equity task force is also scheduling town halls where people can share their stories and air grievances about racial issues they’ve encountered. The town hall dates are tentatively planned to be announced in December, with the first to be held in January.

“I don’t want people to see what we’re doing as a result of what’s happened in the last six weeks. This is something we’ve been tackling in a very important way for a while now,” Painter said. “The truth is, this isn’t just good for our students of color. This is good for all of our kids. I have two white kids in our district who I know will be better off for the work that we’re doing.”

In addition to staff training, the racial equity plan tackles the achievement gap and disparities in suspension rates.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.