Sandwich school administration criticized by teacher who claims bias
Jan 01, 2024
"There's no smoking gun," said Andre King, a seventh-grade ancient history teacher at Sandwich Middle-High School. "I've been showing up and doing my job but they flat out said they don't want me back."
King, who identifies as African American, was informed on May 26 that his teaching contract wouldn't be renewed for the 2023-2024 school year. King said he learned about the decision from school Principal James Mulcahy.
Out of 392 teachers in the Sandwich school district, there are 10 teachers of color, according to a 2022-2023 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education record. King is one of them. There are no Indigenous or Wampanoag teachers or staff in the Sandwich school district, the record showed.About 93% of Sandwich Middle-High School students are identified as white, according to state records.
Children of all races suffer, King argues, when they don't meet, talk to and learn from teachers of color. "Diversity in education is tied to academic achievement," said King, a member of the Barnstable School Committee. "The recruitment and retention of people of color should be a priority."
Mulcahy did not return calls or emails from the Times seeking comment.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Maruszczak said he has had about two interactions with King since he took over in July 2022, after former Sandwich Superintendent Pam Gould retired. In adherence with Massachusetts law, he said he can't discuss personnel matters, but said reasons for non-renewal are typically financial or based upon performance.
"When push comes to shove, what trumps everything, is that we have high-quality educators in front of every single kid," said Maruszczak.
King was hired at Sandwich Middle-High School in 2021, along with about 20 other teachers, he said. The district lost personnel due to the pandemic in 2020, and the school was pulling teachers and staff back on board. King has worked for Sandwich schools for under three years, which holds him in a non-professional status. That status, according to Massachusetts state law, means school officials don't need to provide King with a reason for the contract termination.
King provided his 2022-2023 teacher's evaluation to the Times. The evaluation was issued and signed May 12 by Jeanne Nelson, assistant principal of Sandwich Middle-High School. King was rated proficient in every category, except under the professional practice goal category, which rated him "progressing." "My educator evaluations have shown proficiency, I've missed one day of school in two years, and that was to attend the funeral of John Reed. I’ve established positive relationships with staff and students," King said.Across the district, about nine teaching contracts weren't renewed, said Maruszczak. He has been transparent about budgetary constraints, Maruszczak said, and school administration identified $676,000 in staffing reductions. Sandwich has also lost enrollment in the last five years, said Maruszczak.
"Predecessor Pam Gould kept a very generous level of staffing due to the pandemic," he said. "We’re going to make staffing commensurate with enrollment."
King called his dismissal discriminatory. Yes, a handful of teacher contracts were not renewed, but there was no reason to dismiss the only Black educator in the district, he said.
"The staff of a school district should reflect the community, and everyone needs to have equal opportunity employment," said King.
Maruszczak has backed away from diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts the day he started the superintendent position, said King."In his initial convocation speech he said he was going to step away from DEI," said King. "That's the dog whistle I heard."
Maruszczak provided his convocation speech, which was given Aug. 29, 2022, to the Times. In it, Maruszczak said as schools enter a "new normal," Sandwich schools need to simplify priorities and focus on early literacy, and co-teaching.
"I understand that the great work that has been done in SEL (social and emotional learning) and DEI is incredibly important, but it may look very different across our three buildings, and thus the focus and level of priority may be different," he said.
In an Oct. 19 Sandwich School Committee meeting, members voted to end the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee, which was a subcommittee of the School Committee. The subcommittee included community members.The subcommittee was created by the Sandwich School Committee in December, 2020, to address concerns raised by current and former students in a letter to Sandwich Public Schools regarding school climates and policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In place of the subcommittees, Maruszczak suggested implementing three building-based community groups that would address diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging issues. The building-based groups have met twice since then, he said.
The school hosted the Anti-Defamation League's A World of Difference program at Sandwich Middle-High School, and roughly 60 students were trained as peer leaders, Maruszczak said . School officials screened "Race to be Human," in partnership with Sandwich For All, which was followed by a student panel presentation, April 26.
A structural review was also conducted by BlackPrint Education Consulting, where they weighed in on the district's culturally responsive and equitable practices, said Maruszczak. BlackPrint's findings are currently unavailable to the Times, he said.
A new diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging subcommittee to the School Committee was created on May 31. Now three School Committee members will be liaisons to the building-based groups.
Sharon Hinton, founder of Black Teachers Matter, Inc. in Hyde Park, said a 2018 Johns Hopkins University study showed that students of color, who see one Black teacher in their lifetime, are 39% less likely to drop out of high school. Black students randomly assigned to at least one Black teacher in kindergarten to third grade are 19% more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Black Teachers Matter, Inc. was created out of Hinton's own fight for her teaching position when her contract was terminated from a charter school in 2020. Also employed at the school for less than three years, she was not given a reason for termination. For five months, Hinton protested her dismissal by standing 100 yards from the school along with parents, students, and staff. Three teachers also refused to sign their contracts in solidarity for Hinton, she said.
"If my kids were willing to fight for me — how could I not fight for me?" said Hinton. "I went back and I showed them how to fight."
Hinton eventually settled with the school system. The school's name can't be released because of a non-disclosure agreement, she said.
Hinton said Black teachers are systematically pushed out from schools across the country.
"It's been happening since the Brown vs. Board of Education (Supreme Court decision)," she said. "The structure of this country has never been set up to treat those that are considered second-class citizens in a fair way. They are closing the doors on us."
Research shows that all students need to see themselves represented in their teachers and role models to succeed, said Margot Critchfield, co-founder of Sandwich for All.
For King, it's time for Cape schools to recognize the value of Black teachers. "My students developed relationships with me as I showed up every single day," he said. "I'll miss them. And I won't give up on them — or on me." Rachael Devaney writes about community and culture. Reach her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @RachaelDevaney.Thanks to our subscribers, who help make this coverage possible. If you are not a subscriber, please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Cape Cod Times subscription. Here are our subscription plans.