By the staff of Neighborhood View/Photos by Elizabeth Scorsello
On Aug. 26 MaldenCORE held its 2nd “Rally for Racial Equity in the Malden Public Schools” in a lively event on the steps of Malden High School, attended by about 50 participants, including students, graduates, teachers, local officials, candidates for office, a representative of the NAACP, the president of the teachers union, and school administrators. All stressed the need for more diversity in the school teaching staff, professional training in racial/cultural sensitivity, and an improved system for reporting and addressing issues of racial inequity in the Malden public schools.
“In all my time I only had one black teacher and one Hispanic teacher. And that’s six years. Of about 50 teachers I’ve had, only two have been a minority,” said Sarah Schneider, a Malden High 10th grader, told participants of the rally which was held on the first Professional Development day, which all teachers were expected to attend.
“When the teachers of Malden look into the faces of the students in their classrooms, they see a never ending spectrum of the colors of the rainbow staring back at them,” said Malden graduate Christelle Jean. “When students look back into the faces of their educators they see the same image reflected over again.”
Speakers also talked about the conditions faced by the few minority educators. “Currently, a number of these educators, including myself, had to navigate very hostile and unwelcoming conditions,” said Erga Pierrette, a former school adjustment counselor in the Malden schools, whose contract was not renewed for the 2019-20 school year. “Something needs to be done with that.”
The Monday rally was preceded by meetings with the office of Mayor Gary Christenson and Superintendent John Oteri, as well as the Mystic Valley branch of the NAACP. MaldenCORE participants stressed communication and transparency toward common goals.
Superintendent Oteri later spoke at the rally, saying, “Our primary focus for the Malden Public Schools is to create a welcoming, inclusive and equitable environment for our students and our staff and our families. We are committed to addressing many of the critical issues raised by MaldenCORE and share the common goal of becoming a more culturally proficient School District.”
Key points raised by speakers at the rally included: the differential treatment of students and educators of color; the need for representation of the students by educators of all races and ethnicities; the need to encourage educators to attend cultural competency training; the establishment of a diversity, equity, and inclusion office; a policy for reporting instances of racial and other forms of bias; and a cultural advisory/diversity committee, led by the superintendent, educators, students, families, and community. Rally speakers also stressed the measurement of student outcomes, working together with the city towards cultural change.
“We want to raise awareness and help drive Malden toward being a better school system for all,” said Zane Crute, president of the Mystic Valley Branch of the NAACP. “Greater transparency and collaboration is necessary between city officials and residents of Malden to help usher in this change.”
Other speakers emphasized the need to create a larger pool of minority candidates for teaching and staff positions; Andrea So, a former Malden educator now with the Boston Public Schools, stressed that “Malden can achieve that.”
The rally was emceed by Erga Pierrette and an opening prayer was led by Pastor Emily Hamilton of the First Lutheran Church. Clergy who spoke included Father John of St. Joseph’s Church and the Rev. Otto O’Connor of the First Parish in Malden.
“I remind myself every day to listen to the voices of color in my community to remind us we need to be on this journey by working to build a diverse, multicultural, beloved community,” said O’Connor.
Pierrette spoke enthusiastically about the coming school year: “We’re not there yet…I’m happy to hear that change is on the way.”
Contributors to this article were Fern Remedi-Brown, Stephanie Schorow, and Anne D’Urso-Rose. Photos by Elizabeth Scorsello. Video recorded by Guillermo Hamlin and edited by Simon Camilo.