Home Education and Careers Diversity, equity, inclusion among ongoing objectives in Diocese of Wilmington Catholic schools

Diversity, equity, inclusion among ongoing objectives in Diocese of Wilmington Catholic schools

Students from St. Anthony of Padua during 2019 “Lights of Love” program at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

Diversity in the workplace is part of the cornerstone of equality and among the elements of social justice that matter so much to those eager for a more well-rounded community.

This is true both in the church and Catholic schools where the idea of Catholic social teaching is a big part of providing children with the most balanced view of the world.

All of this helps Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wilmington in their efforts to offer different perspectives from a variety of educators.

It is with these and other thoughts in mind that the Catholic Schools Office led by Superintendent Lou De Angelo set out to expand opportunities for schools to widen their diversity.

“We’re just trying to find a way to broaden our awareness,” said De Angelo.

Among 19 parish and diocesan elementary and high schools across the diocese, 25 percent of students identify as non-white while 6 percent of faculty include themselves in that category. De Angelo and school administrators have spent time figuring out ways to improve those numbers, particularly among teachers.

In December the Board of Catholic Schools formed a diversity committee to review the data, consider diversity in schools and examine its own composition. Each of these steps moved the board and the CSO along the path to compare the schools to the world in which students live, De Angelo said.

Students at St. Elizabeth School participated in walking Stations of the Cross around the parish campus on March 31.

One of the initiatives included bringing in a nationally recognized consultant to work with principals looking for people who otherwise might not be among the pool of candidates.

“It’s an opportunity for their credentials to be made available to principals who are interested,” De Angelo said.

“We want kids to see teachers who look like themselves, and we want kids to see teachers who don’t look like themselves. We need to expand the venue for applications. And that’s really what the purpose was for having a consultant work with us. An opportunity to invite a minority candidate’s application.”

Jay Lewis is an education consultant who has worked with other dioceses in the U.S. He and De Angelo have known each other for many years after meeting at a gathering of leaders in education.

“One of the things (De Angelo) had been taking about was diversity of staff,” said Lewis, who is Black. “I’m going find out what it is that they’re doing … no blame, just get an understanding. How and what areas need to be targeted?”

“Diversity in staffing provides a way for our students to experience a more real-world view and expand their cultural understandings,” De Angelo said. There is no obligation to hire applicants provided, he said, but an invitation to consider them for open positions in schools.

“My goal is to help in terms of increasing your numbers of teachers among people of color,” said Lewis. “Students should not see people who look like them in just custodial and cafeteria workers. Let’s see if we can figure out something to get you candidates.

Students at St. John the Beloved pray at the Stations.

“My goal is to have people who can land and be able to use their gifts. I can send candidates to your principals who have openings.”

Lewis said he wants to help people feel good about what they’re trying to do and ultimately help develop a pipeline of people of color for jobs at local schools.

“I do understand how it can be difficult sometimes,” he said. “People are intimidated.”

Having spoken to local principals, Lewis is optimistic.

“I think the diocese as a whole, it’s just going to work out,” he said.

De Angelo said the diocese has always looked for the highest standards in its candidates.

“Catholicity and qualifications are going to be at the forefront of any hire, just as we’ve always done. It doesn’t mean everyone has to be Catholic. But two even candidates, one Catholic and one not, then we’re going to favor the Catholic in that situation.”

“We’re certainly living in a society that’s extremely conscious of diversity, whether it’s racial, ethnic, gender,” he said. “It certainly has raised our awareness of it and in doing so, we wanted to begin a response at least in terms of looking at our teachers and the schools in which they serve.”

De Angelo said the schools office held a session with administrators on “unconscious bias.”

“Many of our schools have done things on their own about racial inequity, which is part of social justice, which is part of Catholic social teaching,” he said.

“The schools welcomed the help,” De Angelo said.

Several students from Cathedral of St. Peter Church School attend the “Mass for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children” at the Cathedral of St. Peter Church, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Dialog photo/Don Blake

Mary McClory, head of school at Padua Academy, said the all-girls high school has taken steps to address diversity.

“Having diversity of faculty and staff is very important,” McClory said. She said the school has added a culture coordinator “to work with our students to help address concerns related to inclusion and sensitivity.”

She said Lewis “will be a great resource as we move forward and look to hire new faculty and staff members, candidates with expertise in the area we’re looking for. Not only this year, but as one of our Middles States objectives with an action plan that will address all members of the school community.”

“Programming for students, professional development for faculty that ultimately makes the school more able to achieve the equity.”

Shana Rossi, Padua’s director of advancement and alumnae, is a member of the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee that demonstrates the school’s diverse history.

“Diversity is one thing; inclusion is more important.” Rossi said. “Not that you’re just invited to the party but part of the party planning.

“We’re called to care for each other, learning about one another,” Rossi said. Tori Closson, a Padua alumna who is now on staff as the coordinator of student culture, spearheads a speaker series with Padua alumnae of color. Alumnae meet with students via Zoom to discuss their experiences as women of color, encouraging one another to use their Padua education to bring about the best for all of God’s creation.

“Years ago, we were taught to be color blind, see everyone the same. We’re now working on being color brave. It’s much more genuine. It’s the right thing to do, really, to see that person for what they are.”

Lewis said he sees a commitment from the people he met at the diocese. He says his contribution isn’t part of a mandate for change, but believes he senses a desire for greater inclusion.

“Principals want that diversity,” Lewis said. “They just don’t always know how to find it.”