Blackstone Valley Prep staff plays central role in shaping inclusive culture

ACADEMY LEADERS: Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy diversity and inclusion leaders are, from left, teachers Mia Palombo, Angela Garcia, Alicia Canning, Janae McMillan, Chief of Human Capital Joshua Giraldo, teacher Gina Ortega and CEO and Superintendent Jeremy Chiappetta.  PBN PHOTO/
ELIZABETH GRAHAM
ACADEMY LEADERS: Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy diversity and inclusion leaders are, from left, teachers Mia Palombo, Angela Garcia, Alicia Canning, Janae McMillan, Chief of Human Capital Joshua Giraldo, teacher Gina Ortega and CEO and Superintendent Jeremy Chiappetta. PBN PHOTO/
ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PBN Diversity and Inclusion Awards 2021
K-12 Education: Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy


A strong commitment to diversity and inclusion is an essential part of Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy’s mission to provide high-quality education to K-12 students from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket.

“The most important thing that we have done and continue to do is to name diversity as a priority for the organization,” said Blackstone Valley Prep CEO and Superintendent Jeremy Chiapetta. “I have led the work on our team to ensure that our goals match our work and match our values.”

Blackstone Valley Prep is a network of six tuition-free charter schools with an intentionally racially and socioeconomically diverse student body – mixing students from both traditionally higher-income and working-class communities.

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There is stiff competition to get in. For the 2020-2021 school year, the academy received 2,219 applications for approximately 250 seats, Chiapetta said.

Part of his role involves helping the charter school network increase the diversity of its staff.

“We aim to make the staff more reflective of our student body,” he said.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 22% of staff identified as people of color. This year, it’s up to 29%, and the school network has a goal of increasing that figure to at least 30% by 2022.

Some of the steps it has taken to achieve this goal include having hiring managers participate in implicit bias training; attending a diversity-focused education recruitment event to expand reach to more candidates of color; and increasing tuition reimbursement for support staff who want to become teachers.

‘The most important thing that we have done and continue to do is to name diversity as a priority for the organization.’
JEREMY CHIAPETTA, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy CEO and superintendent

Furthering Blackstone Valley Prep’s commitment to issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, the school network created a stipend position of diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator in 2019 to lead DEI initiatives across all schools. In 2020, the person in the role, Alyssa Fatal, had her responsibilities increased and was promoted to director of human capital, a cabinet-level position.

One of the most important steps the charter school network has taken to promote equity and inclusion has been establishing a program that appoints a diversity, equity and inclusion chair in each school, Fatal said. The adult staff members, some teachers and some paraprofessionals, receive compensation in exchange for leading their respective communities in those areas.

“Having a leader in the building who is there as a resource and as somebody who is really passionate about the work is really important,” Fatal said. “They help with gathering resources for the different month celebrations or the holidays that come up. They run book clubs in our schools, and they create monthly newsletters that go out to the whole school and talk about things going on in the news or that people should be aware of happening in the community.”

In addition, for the past three years Blackstone Valley Prep has held affinity groups for its staff members of color to build community across all its schools. And all new staff members participate in a series of DEI-focused professional development sessions to help build a common understanding.

In 2020, the charter school network became part of the inaugural cohort of The Bridges Collaborative, a national grassroots initiative designed to advance racial and socioeconomic integration and equity in schools.

“This gives us access to resources to find out what people think about integration,” Fatal said. “We’ve had a couple of meetings where people have been able to speak about what pushing integration means in their communities, and we’ve met as peer groups to discuss dilemmas we’re facing as we move forward.”

And additional efforts are still to come. Last year, the school network’s leadership began to work toward creating a strategic plan for its diversity work. They are in the process of receiving input from all staff members.

“We continue to focus on diversity, and we regularly ask ourselves the questions, ‘How can we be better? How can we be more inclusive?’ ” Chiapetta said. “We ask every staff member to reflect on our diversity initiatives and how each of us can better contribute to the overall success of the ­organization.”

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