Judy Jones loves her job as Carroll County Public Schools' supervisor of Equity and Community Outreach. But for her, living and working in Carroll County hasn't always been easy.
Jones, an African-American woman, has been in Carroll for 11 years, after growing up in Baltimore and going through the city school system. She worked in Baltimore City schools for about 11 years before choosing to move here to get her children into a better school system than the one they were zoned for in Baltimore County.
"We knew the school system [in Carroll County] was great and at the top in Maryland," she said.
And in a lot of ways, coming to Carroll to live and work was good, Jones said. Century High School, the first school where she served as an assistant principal in the county, was welcoming, Jones added.
Even still, friends and family told her Carroll County wasn't ready for her, Jones said. People told her not to move to Carroll, Jones said, and warned her it lacked diversity.
"Was it culture shock? It absolutely was," Jones said.
Carroll County's population is made up of 8.2 percent minorities. And while the Carroll County Public Schools system has a 14 percent minority student population, that number drops drastically when it comes to minority staff members.
And while Jones said she was lucky to have a strong support system and network, and an administration that supported her through these tougher times, other minority educators who have come to Carroll continue to struggle.
At the February Board of Education meeting, Jones and Chantress Baptist, supervisor of Human Resources, said time and time again, minority educators cite the environment in the system — and county — as the top reason they left. They often also cite salary and financial reasons, but the reason they started looking is because of the environment, Baptist said.
Some of the minority educators they spoke with left Carroll County Public Schools for teaching jobs in surrounding counties.
One, Baptist said, even left without another job lined up.
"A lot of our teachers don't feel welcomed," Jones said in an interview with the Times. "They hear statements and comments from co-workers that are, quite frankly, offensive."
They hear comments from co-workers who wonder whether minority educators are there because of Affirmative Action. They hear jokes about whose job they're taking, she said.
And they even hear things about the county not wanting to diversify, that Carroll is fine the way it is, Jones said.
"What does that say to them, and what does that say to all of the minority students in our schools that want to look around and see someone who looks like them?" she added.
'It has to be every day'
If an incident comes up, Baptist said there are a few steps that are taken.
The first level is for minor issues, like microaggressions, she said, like when someone makes an off-hand comment that is offensive. The Human Resources Department will investigate, and send a letter of summary for the person to consider how their acts made the other person feel, and how it would make them feel.
The next step is a letter of reprimand, Baptist said. It is more severe, and puts the letter in their employee file, she said. This is for instances that are more direct in nature.
The final step is a suspension, and could involve a situation where a racial slur is used. Carroll schools are working to implement another level on that step, Baptist said, which would also require the suspended individual to take part in cultural sensitivity training.
Right now, Jones said, the school system is in a good place moving forward. They have a superintendent who is supportive of the vision of diversity, and a Board of Education that wants to help.
"I have felt nothing but love and support from this school board," she said. "They come from a good place of wanting to support."
The school board expressed concern, and took a firm stand on the importance of diversity, following the presentation Feb. 8.
The fact that people are leaving because of how they've been treated as a minority educator is "disheartening," board member Marsha Herbert said in the February meeting.
It's a feeling other board members expressed.
Donna Sivigny said it's important to address any cultural biases there may be in the county, and it's the school board's duty to step in when it comes to issues on the school system.
"I think that is completely incumbent upon the Board of Education to handle," Sivigny said.
Board President Devon Rothschild echoed that need to step up.
"As the Board of Education, we need to take a stand that it is completely unacceptable," she said. "We are not OK having a system where other employees feel like they can be inappropriate or hostile."
The board talked about setting measurable goals in its strategic plan for bringing in, and retaining minority educators, and helping to support any and all initiatives put forth.
But even still, board member Virginia Harrison said there needs to be more. It's not just training and policies, she said. It's a bigger issues in Carroll schools, and Carroll County.
"You have to make the climate right," Harrison said. "It has to be every day. Unless you get the climate right, it's not going to work."
Hope, change and moving forward
While the statistics are troubling to school system officials, Jones remains hopeful.
It starts with open conversation, and a better understanding, Jones said. Everyone should feel their talents and gifts are accepted, she added, no matter ethnicity or race or sexual orientation or religion. No matter what.
And it's important everyone see the conscious and unconscious biases they have, she added.
"I really believe sometimes people don't know what they're saying. They don't know what they're doing," Jones said.
It could be comments on Facebook or during faculty meetings — but it gets back to people, Jones said, and it tells them they're not welcome.
"We have to do better," Jones said.
Carroll County Public Schools continues to bolster its Education that is Multicultural program. CCPS defines ETM as "an approach to understanding and embracing the differences within the learning community," according to its website.
Carroll County Public Schools is continuing to work toward that goal, through Cultural Proficiency Training. The training promotes equity, and works through everyone's personal journey to understand where they come from, and cultural differences.
It's been going on for a year or two now, Jones said, but they're ramping things up.
Schools also have ETM representatives who Jones trains twice a year, and who bring that information back to their staff to implement what has been learned into the classroom and day-to-day work.
To be clear, Jones said, cultural proficiency isn't something that's "check[ed] off every month." Instead, it's a tool to use as Carroll schools work to become a system that is truly equitable for all, she said.
Another large portion of the school system's goal in hiring and retaining minority educators, and promoting diversity, is a mentoring structure, Jones said. If something happens, it's important to have a network to go to that's supportive, she said.
"We naturally gravitate to folks who are like us. It's not a bad thing all the time," Jones said. "It helps them see that there's someone like me here; I'm not by myself. It's a support system. And it brings about a natural friendship."
Jones said she wants these educators to have that sort of connection to someone.
"We are trying to do something in Carroll County that's never been done before. We're going to be trailblazers in this county," Jones said. "We are going to reverse the stigma that's out there about this county."
And it's bigger than just Black History Month, she said.
It's about making sure no child, person or employee feels left out, Jones said. It's making sure students are learning about and seeing people who represent them.
It's about celebrating everyone, she said.
"Everybody needs to be welcomed," Jones said. "That's the message of equity. No one loses out when you celebrate everybody."