Pamlico County School Board meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the high school auditorium. Normally only a handful of county residents attend. This Monday around 75 people are here, mostly from the local Black community. They are determined to stay for Item 7.6., a discussion about the racial makeup of teachers and administrators in the public school system, which is scheduled for the end of the meeting.
Recently, Pamlico County Branch Unit 5429 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked for the school system’s demographic data. The school system announced that it would release the data tonight.
On the auditorium stage, Superintendent Lisa Jackson and five members of the school board sit at long desks. The lawyer for the school district and a sixth school board member are on screens in the center of the stage participating via Zoom.
By 7:30 p.m. the school board has declared November 12th a day off for students (Wellness Day), approved an overnight trip for the boys high school basketball team, appointed delegates to a North Carolina School Board Association conference and agreed to discuss dress codes and redistricting during the next meeting.
Finally, Item 7.6 is called. The residents in attendance, many of them parents and former teachers, are still. The moment feels tense.
The board chairperson, John Prescott, calls local NAACP education committee chairperson, Vickie Moseley-Jones, to the podium in front of the stage.
Moseley-Jones, whose child attended Pamlico County public schools, speaks slowly, reminiscing about teachers they had who were Black and who supported their family. It was important, she says, for her child to have mentors who lived in their community; the concern that many Black residents of Pamlico have now is that their children aren’t getting that opportunity.
“The bottom line is you have African American students in the school system,” Moseley-Jones says. “Should they not see individuals in leadership roles as teachers or administrators who look like them? Who give them some direction, some leadership, some goals?” The audience applauds and some shout words of agreement.
Prescott announces that he and the board are here to listen today and will not be commenting. He calls NAACP Branch 5429 President Douglas Pearsall, who was once the dropout prevention coordinator for the district.
Pearsall walks to the podium and holds it with both hands. He delivers an impassioned speech about the importance of Black teachers. “How did we get here?” he asks. “We have a cultural problem here. We want our children to walk into school and have someone say, ‘Good morning,’ who looks like them.”
The audience claps and many stand. Prescott thanks Pearsall for his speech and for his service to students.
Next, Shakia Robinson, the school system’s head of human resources, takes the microphone to answer pre-submitted questions.
“We do recognize that there is an issue with diversity and are hoping to work with you all, everyone in the community, to address the issues of diversity on our staff,” she says. She says all school districts in the area are “having difficulty finding qualified educators,” and that they are recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). (Earlier, Moseley-Jones had voiced concern that Black teaching assistants don’t have a clear promotional pathway to become head teachers, a criticism Robinson doesn’t address because it wasn’t included among the questions submitted.)
The final voice on Item 7.6 is from Dr. Ervin Patrick, the school system’s new director of community outreach, equity and school improvement, who was hired three months ago to help retain staff members of color.
“It’s going to take all of us working together for a solution,” Patrick, who is Black, begins. “I hope we can schedule some time to find a solution. And we agree that our children should see teachers who look like them.”
Then, he releases the data that everyone has been waiting for. The school system reports that about 18 percent of the student population is Black but only about 11 percent of the teachers are. Five of the 20 district and school administrators are Black. Representation among Latino and Indigenous teachers and administrators is even lower.
After his presentation, many residents leave shaking their heads, clearly frustrated. I ask three women who attended the meeting together and are Black for their thoughts. They tell me they live in Pamlico and used to teach there, but eventually they transferred to schools in a neighboring county. They said they left because they felt there was a lack of trust between white teachers and administrators and teachers of color, and they were frustrated with the school board for not noticing or addressing these problems. They ask me not to use their names because they are afraid of retribution from people in the school system.
Superintendent Lisa Jackson says any qualified candidates can reach out to the district’s human resources specialist or apply for a job in the school system at www.pamlicoschools.org
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