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Friday, October 16, 2009

As schools grow more diverse, districts compete for the same pool of minority teacher candidates

By TRACI SHURLEY |Star Telegram
Oct. 14, 2009

ARLINGTON � When two civil-rights organizations asked Arlington school trustees to consider switching from at-large to single-member districts last month, their explanations highlighted an issue that districts across Texas face: a disparity between the high percentage of minority students and the low percentage of minority teachers.

"I used to go to school with my daughters, and the only Hispanics we would see were the custodians and the food-service workers," said Luis Castillo, president of Arlington Council 4353 of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "I don�t want my little girls to grow up and think Hispanics are only good for that. I want her to see that Hispanics are also teachers, counselors, principals."

He hopes single-member districts would lead to more minority representation in the district�s leadership and trickle down to the classrooms.

Arlington�s demographics have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The number of minority students grew from about 49 percent in 1999 to about 71 percent this year. Meanwhile, the district has only about 22 percent non-Anglo teachers and 26 percent non-Anglo administrators.

School leaders said they are working to narrow the gap, but others say they have lots of work to do. And Arlington isn�t the only district facing this struggle. Though the disparities vary, districts across Tarrant County have far lower percentages of minority teachers than they do minority students, according to the most recent numbers available from the Texas Education Agency.

"We�re all competing for the same small pool," said Marilyn Evans, Arlington�s assistant superintendent of personnel. "You have to jump out there and make yourself unique in some way so that the pool is attracted to you."

In Fort Worth, for example, 85.7 percent of the district�s 79,000 students in 2007-08 were minorities, compared with 38.3 percent of its teachers. In Hurst-Euless-Bedford, it was 48.8 percent compared with 12.4 percent.

Local personnel administrators said they are trying to change those numbers because they know that minority students need minority teachers to look up to. They also want their schools to reflect the diversity of the wider world.

"It�s always been our desire to reflect the student body," said Terry Buckner, director of recruiting initiatives for Fort Worth.

Teachers, she said, provide the first role models for students who may wonder what they can achieve by going after a college degree.

"Our students don�t necessarily see engineers every day. They don�t see bankers every day. They don�t even necessarily see doctors or nurses every day, but they do see teachers," she said.

Efforts under way

In 2007-08, minorities made up more than 65 percent of the public school student population in Texas, but only 32.5 percent of the teachers were minorities. Schools face challenges to finding enough minority teachers, said Richard Kouri, director of public affairs for the Texas State Teachers Association.

"We have a shortage of certified teachers in Texas to start with," Kouri said. "The recession over the last 12 months sort of made that perhaps less of an issue, but still, we have about 50,000 classrooms that don�t have appropriately certified teachers."

In addition, he said, minority college graduates are in high demand as companies all over Texas try to create more diverse work forces. School districts also compete against one another for the same group of students, he said.

Buckner agreed.

"All forms of business and commerce are pulling at the best minority students and college graduates," she said. Fort Worth has approached the challenge on several fronts, she said.

The district�s representatives hit job fairs at historically black colleges and universities and schools that serve high percentages of Hispanics, even if it means going out of state, to Tennessee, for example. Fort Worth also has a designated minority recruiter.

Evans said it�s difficult to know how many applications Arlington receives from minority candidates because they can�t ask about an applicant�s ethnicity. But, she said, the district has also stepped up its attention to job fairs at historically black and high-Hispanic-enrollment institutions.

In addition, Arlington recently spent $2,745 to have information about the district listed on two Web sites that appeal to minority candidates. That way, the district can get its name out at colleges nationwide.

"The new generation is very much into social networking and doing more things with e-mail and online," Evans said. "So more of your younger recruits don�t even come to the job fairs; they�re more interested in things online."

Two years ago, Arlington also created a work force diversity committee, a group of staff and community members who advise administrators on how to attract minority candidates and help them succeed. It played a big role in the district�s recent implementation of a diversity training course for all employees.

Though they don�t go out of state, personnel recruiters in H-E-B have also tried to increase their profile at universities with high minority enrollment, said Callie Hearne, assistant superintendent of human resources. In the last few years, the district has held its own job fair to increase the pool of teacher applicants.

H-E-B wants to increase its minority teacher representation to 20 percent by 2014, a goal that leaders feel is realistic.

"Hopefully we�ll exceed our goals," Hearne said.

Some progress

Though adding minority teachers is important, it�s not the primary focus when principals make hiring decisions, according to two of the Arlington district�s minority administrators. Fernando Benavides and David Gutierrez, principals at Boles Junior High and Thornton Elementary, respectively, said they look at everything a candidate offers.

"For me, it�s about not so much a minority versus a nonminority.  . . .  It�s just a matter of finding the right fit for my campus," said Gutierrez, whose school has more than 37 percent minority teachers.

Ultimately, he wants a teacher who can connect with students.

"I believe that if you have a teacher that can build good, positive relationships with students in the classroom, it doesn�t matter if they�re a minority," said Gutierrez, a member of the district�s work force diversity committee. "In my mind it�s about being able to reach the kid and to understand where they come from."

Castillo, who also serves on the diversity committee, said he believes that the number of qualified minority candidates has increased so much in the past few decades that the district should be doing better at hiring minorities.

Jacqueline Echols, a teacher in the district for 20 years, agreed that minority hiring is behind where it needs to be. Still, she and Terry Meza, past president of LULAC Council 4353, said the work force diversity committee is an encouraging step. Both women serve on it.

Meza said the panel is more than window dressing: Administrators value and act on its input.

She said she wishes the hiring of minority teachers was progressing faster.

However, she added: "From the school district perspective, they only have a certain number of positions open every year.  . . .  It�s not like we�re starting out with a new organization, a brand-new organization, and saying, 'OK, we�re going to try to hire percentages that reflect the community.� "

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