A DEI Interview with Ms. Caputo

Ms. Kate Caputo began working at Mitty in 1996. She has served as Mitty’s principal for three years and currently acts as the Principal/Interim President. We spoke to Ms. Caputo in early October about her reaction to the ExposeMitty Twitter thread, where alumni of color spoke out about their past experiences on campus and concerns for current students of color; the resulting creation of the DEI initiative; and future steps for the Mitty community as a whole.


How did you feel when you were reading the #ExposeMitty Twitter hashtag? What filled your mind?

I have spent the last 25 years working to make Mitty a great place for a wide variety of young men and young women.  To read the posts this summer was devastating and heartbreaking to me.


As the BLM movement gained traction this summer, did you yourself grapple or reckon with racism? 

I believe that the entire nation is grappling with what happened this summer.  Personally, I chose to approach the events of this summer from a place of re-educating myself on the issue of racism. I had to ask myself some hard questions and commit to being part of a discussion about how we can ensure Mitty is a place of inclusion and welcome for all of our community members.


How have you seen other staff members reckon with racism, both in their own lives and in regards to what they do at school?

I have watched the faculty and staff do what they do best: search for ways to best support our students.  Their immediate response was “what can we do?”  We began reading and thinking and talking about racism.  I think some good work was done this summer and will continue in the coming weeks, months, and years.


How accurately do you feel the thread portrayed the past experiences of students of color at the school? We understand that you participated in a series of listening sessions with alumni. What did you learn from these sessions?

Students of color shared their experiences – those experiences are not for me to judge.  They were not my experiences.  I listened.  I believe that was my role in what happened this summer.  I learned a lot from listening.  I learned that despite having a good high school experience, some students of color had experienced racism in a variety of forms during their time at Mitty.  These experiences marred their memories of Mitty.  I felt that many alumni were saying, “Mitty is a place that should lead the charge to address issues of institutional racism.”  I heard from alumni that they want Mitty to be an even better place for future students and their own children. I heard that alumni wanted to see a more diverse faculty and staff, curriculum that included diverse voices, policies and practices that were culturally sensitive and transparent. 


What do you believe has led to students of color having the experiences that they had at Mitty?

Mitty is a microcosm of our larger society.  The same realities that exist outside of Mitty have impacted the experiences of some students of color here at Mitty.  We have to step back and look at the Mitty experience from a different perspective, gather some different data than we have traditionally collected, and then have some important conversations about what the Mitty experience is like through the lens of our diverse student body.


Why did ExposeMitty happen to such a large extent at Mitty compared to other high schools?

Because this was so personal to us, I think it is easy to think that what happened here this summer was unique to Mitty.  It wasn’t.  I heard from heads of schools across the country that they too were experiencing situations similar to ours.  A quick Google search will show that our experience was not unique.


What has Mitty historically gotten right, or what qualities does it have that can help it to change? 

Central to our Catholic mission is the belief that each of us is created in God’s image and likeness.  This central tenet of our mission directs us to think about how we treat one another, how we show our respect for all people and empower one another.  This charge to see God in every person we encounter shapes how we view our community, our responsibilities, and our actions.  This focus is a strength of our community, and it reminds us that our words and actions reveal much about our thoughts and beliefs.

Mitty has always been committed to a culture of hospitality. We work hard to welcome our students to campus each year and make sure that they are surrounded by adults who care about them, how they are doing and how they are growing up here.  This commitment to fostering community and creating support systems for our students is central to our success.  Mitty is a place where we are never satisfied with “good enough.”  There is an ongoing commitment to looking at what our students need and how can we best support them.

I think our culture of hospitality, the dedication of our faculty and staff, and our commitment to addressing student needs are things that Mitty has traditionally done well.  These important cultural elements will serve this community well as we move forward.


What do you say to students who don’t believe there is a genuine desire to change and do better? What will lead them to believe that this desire is real?

I don’t believe that words lead people to believe that change will happen – actions do.  The work that has been done so far and the work to come will show our community that we are committed to the initiatives set forth in the DEI Action Plan.


Can you describe the specific events that transpired following ExposeMitty? How did the DEI initiative begin? What is its mission?

Following #ExposeMitty, we contracted with an educational consulting firm, ScholarVision Educational Consulting, which is headed by Dr. Melina Johnson.  With Dr. Johnson serving as a thought partner, we conducted more than a dozen listening sessions with alumni, parents, faculty and staff.  We expanded our existing Outreach Committee (now the DEI Committee) to include more alumni and current parents.  Working with the committee, we began to create a document that captured the current state of the DEI situation at Mitty and projected a desired future state of DEI focus for the school.  We are now in the process of creating action plans that will get us from our current state to our future state. 

We began work on professional development for our faculty and staff, partnering with Epoch Education on a two-year, six-part equity education program.  Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Vargas are working with a small group of students to create a climate survey to glean important information about the Mitty experience from our current students.  We have begun discussions with the Academic Council regarding curriculum review and expansion.  We have also begun work with restorative justice surrounding issues of race.  Much more work is on the horizon, but we have been working steadily to address those issues identified this summer.


Has there been or should there be an outlet for students to voice their concerns not only to specific administrators but to the community at large? Why did it take an outpouring on social media for these stories to be told? Was there a better outlet that could have been used? Will there be?

Some of our alumni explained that, while they felt something wasn’t quite right while they were students, it wasn’t until a few years later, once they’d had wider life and learning experiences, that they were equipped to name and call out the experiences they had in high school. We also understand that social media is a way that people connect and communicate now. It was certainly difficult to hear on such a public platform, but it started the conversation. We also had alumni who organized and wrote to us or met with us as a group to talk through their concerns.

One of the areas on which we will focus our work with ScholarVision is in establishing a way for students to voice their concerns.  Dr. Johnson will work with us to create a process and a protocol for addressing student concerns.  That process will be shared with students shortly.  In the short term, Dr. Johnson will work with us to review student concerns and direct them to the appropriate internal or external entity to address the concern.  In the long term, we  will work to establish a structure within the school to respond to student concerns.


We have seen a perception on social media that Mr. Fallis was promoted. Is this accurate? 

Mr. Fallis has been an Assistant Principal since 2008, and he continues in that role today.  As a result of Mr. Brosnan’s retirement, I needed to restructure the administration to address the school’s general administrative needs.  These changes involved redistribution of responsibilities for quite a few administrators and preceded the events of this summer.


What are your thoughts on the complaints that were made against the Dean’s Office?

We’ve come to see that we need to provide more clarity for students on how our discipline policies and practices work. Obviously, there are some expectations of privacy that would not allow us to share specific student information, but we do see an opportunity to improve how clearly our processes are spelled out and shared with students. 


Are there any misconceptions about administration that you would like to clarify?

In a previous question you asked what I would say to students who don’t believe there is a genuine desire to change and do better.  It would be a misconception if someone believed that we do not want to address the concerns raised by our Black alumni, or any group of students who feel like they don’t belong or are being treated inequitably. We do, and we are.


When we spoke to you earlier you also spoke about how you realized you hadn’t been asking the right questions. Can you elaborate on what questions you believe you need to start asking and what has changed from the questions you used to ask?

I often worry that we “over-survey” our students, asking, How is class going? How much homework do you have? How is your stress level? Do you feel supported?  These are important questions, and we need to keep asking them. I think we also need to ask the kinds of questions that allow students to tell us that because of who they are, they have a different Mitty experience.  This is an important change that we need to make in the type of survey data that we collect from our students.  I believe that our climate survey will allow us to begin to gather that important data.


How do you justify a long-term approach to change with students who may want to see more change quickly and believe a faster approach would have a greater impact on their current experience? What do you believe long term change looks like in practice?

I believe strongly that hurrying toward change will simply put a band-aid on a problem that has existed across our country for a long time.  Creating a plan that includes a variety of voices is really important to facilitating long-term change.  This means that many conversations need to take place and a lot of planning and preparation is required to bring about systemic change.  I would rather move slowly and surely toward meaningful change than hurry to satisfy the desire for immediacy.  I think that we need to get this right for today’s students and tomorrow’s.  That is going to take some time.


You mentioned that transparency was key when launching the DEI initiative. Can you elaborate on why the administration is emphasizing transparency and how this transparency is taking concrete form?

The call for transparency was clear this summer and we are responding to that call in several ways.  The DEI Initiatives website was created this fall to share with the community the work that has been done to address the areas of concern identified this summer.  The DEI Committee in conjunction with the Academic and Administrative councils have been working on the creation of the DEI strategic initiatives that will guide our work this year and into the future.  That information as well as all of the meeting notes and agendas from this summer is included on the website.  This is one of the ways that community members can track our progress on this important work.

I think fear generates many of the misperceptions about how things work at Mitty.  We are working administratively to better educate our students about policies and procedures so that there is less fear surrounding “what happens if…”  This is another aspect of transparency that I think can alleviate some of the uncertainty surrounding concerns about how students are treated in matters concerning access to accelerated courses, mental health resources, and disciplinary matters.


Has what has happened changed the light in which you view your job or the school?

I continue to be proud of the work that is done here at Mitty.  This summer was a new challenge for our community, and I think the community responded as I would have expected, asking, “What can we do?” and “How can we help?”  There is much to be done as we move forward, but I have faith in this community and know that we can continue to provide an exceptional Catholic, college preparatory education to a wide variety of students.  We are committed to our students, to their experiences, and to contributing to the wider community.  Our work continues and our community will be stronger in the end.


Are there any final comments you would like to share?

I want to thank our students, faculty and staff for their ongoing support of Archbishop Mitty High School.  As I told you all on the first day of school: 

Today marks the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a community of individuals committed to walking alongside one another –  a community committed to taking a close look at how we speak to one another, how we think about one another, and how we behave toward one another, ever mindful that our thoughts become our words and our actions. 

 Although today we are separated by location, we are still a community united by a shared purpose, and this conversation will continue.  It will not end today.  We will walk together in this process and in the end, I believe, we will find that we have created an even stronger Mitty community.