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Meet NYC's First-Ever Gender Equity Coordinator for Public Schools

By Amy Zimmer | February 27, 2017 8:50am
 Kimberly Shannon, the DOE's new Gender Equity Coordinator.
Kimberly Shannon, the DOE's new Gender Equity Coordinator.
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Department of Education

MANHATTAN — Kimberly Shannon, the Department of Education’s recently hired, first-ever gender equity coordinator, has a long list of issues she plans to tackle, from gender-based violence and pregnant or parenting students to boosting representation in career technical programs or STEM classes.

Shannon is also charged with figuring out ways to better support and empower girls, transgender students and gender non-conforming students — particularly students of color, students with disabilities and students in temporary housing — in the city’s 1,800 schools.

The position was created in partnership with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark –Viverito’s Young Women’s Initiative.

“I’m building partnerships with community-based organizations, other city agencies and DOE employees and parents,” said Shannon, who hit the ground running about two months ago, bringing workshops into schools and focusing on programs that promote access and gender equity.

As President Trump's administration has moved away from ensuring strong protections for transgender students, recently rescinding federal guidelines that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms that matched their gender identity, the DOE has been moving in the opposite direction with the new position for Shannon, who will work closely with the DOE’s liaison for LGBTQ students.

“The greatest need for my role is focusing on the most marginalized populations. That’s something we’re committed to at the DOE,” Shannon said. “I’ve been really moved at how many organizations and schools are eager to work with me.”

She’s teamed up with middle and high school peer educators from the NYC Healthy Relationship Academy, run by the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, to help create a full-day training for guidance counselors and social workers on intimate partner violence.

“The peer educators do great work in schools and connect with students on a deep level,” Shannon said. “We talked not only about emotional abuse but also technological abuse. That’s why it’s important to bring in the peer educators. Things are evolving every day with how technology is used.”

Shannon — who previously served as the deputy director of education and research for the New York State Association of School Business Officials — is exploring ways to create more mentorship opportunities for girls, transgender and gender non-conforming students.

She’s been working with the Office of Postsecondary Readiness on how to encourage these students to look at non-traditional career technical education programs, which currently draw a disproportionately-male population.

She’s also hosting a women’s history panel next month at the Ed Department's Tweed headquarters where experts will speak about the accomplishments of under-recognized women and transgender individuals.

Joseph Cimpian, associate professor of economics and education policy at NYU Steinhardt, whose research focuses on gender equity, was pleased to hear about the DOE’s new hire and hoped that Shannon’s work could be a model for other cities.

He was hopeful that her job would be able to address some of the issues related to bullying and emotional distress for transgender students.

He said he also hoped she would focus on the gender achievement gap that starts early and lays the foundation for girls avoiding STEM careers.

Cimpian’s research, looking at test scores and teachers’ perceptions, found that the achievement gap starts widening after kindergarten, when teachers — female ones more than male ones — often underrate girls' abilities.

“Because of that, girls are falling behind,” Cimpian said. “The teachers may not be aware of some of the biases they have.”

Many female teachers of younger students might have a personal phobia of math, which they consciously or unconsciously transfer to their students, Cimpian said.

“We probably need to raise the level of math knowledge and confidence of early education teachers,” Cimpian said. “That would go a long way in helping gender equity.”